Peggy Dunne’s horn blows thrice, a warning of imminent departure. In the waning sunlight it ripples mournful as an eagle’s cry about the platform. Petulant, slender as a quill, Sebus Grimm leans upon the platform rail beside the bluff breadth of SlipMaster Elder Cambian.
Sebus folds one long hand into the pocket of his waistcoat, retrieves a small, ornate silver pot. Flips the lid. Nestled within the embrace of yellowed ivory, a soft purple powder radiates mild luminance.
He snags a pinch to each nostril, slender fingers articulated as spider legs. Coughs out an iridescent cloud of lavender smoke. It curls from each nostril in a delicate corkscrew. He cups the open case between palm and fingers, offers it to Elder.
Elder’s eyes start from his head, great greedy orbs of brown, ‘Don’t mind if I do.’ He partakes of two pinches. Coughs out lavender, eyes watering. ‘By thunder, Sebus, that’s the stuff.’
‘Pure dried, ground sprite, potency preserved by alicorn ivory,’ Sebus says, face haughty with pride as he pockets the box. ‘I have connections, you know.’
Elder pulls out a large spotted handkerchief and dabs at his watering eyes. ‘Yes, yes, quite the connected fellow these days, I hear. But then it was always said at the Academy that you’d be the one to go far.’
‘Ah,’ says Sebus, eyes soft with nostalgia, ‘the Academy.’
Elder nods, a fond smile gracing the thin lips beneath a luxurious sweep of moustache. ‘Good memories. Still miss the old place.’
Sebus opens his mouth to respond. His words, doubtless flamboyant and smug, are drowned by the ring of heavy footsteps on the stone of the platform. The two gentlemen turn in concert, faces ripe with curiosity.
‘I say,’ remarks Elder, craning his neck to see across to the opposite edge, ‘who’s trying to leap on this late?’
‘Trouble,’ murmurs Sebus, eyes glowing mild lavender as he employs the small gift afforded him by his preferred brand of snuff. ‘Trouble in suits. Her Divine Self will not be amused.’
He slathers an unctuous smile of welcome across his thin cheeks as the passengers approach. Three hulks of muscle in black suits, black sunglasses. Identically blond, granite featured clones. Pre-formed slabs of deadly force, shrink-wrapped in pinstripe. Their huge firearms are dwarfed by the muscles of their thighs.
Their faces, habitually unaccustomed to expressions of pleasure or welcome, remain bland, business-like. They simply stand before the two gentlemen in stony silence, radiating mountainous expectance. Eventually, the smile sliding off his face as if greased, Sebus, giggling nervously, sweeps to one side. The pouch nestled below one lugubrious eye jerks to the rhythm of a nervous tic.
‘Just in time, gentlemen. Please. Do move swiftly aboard. The Peggy sails in less than five minutes.’
The two gentlemen watch in grave speechless accord as the trio step across the seamless shimmer of the force-plank. In the deepening enclosure of darkness it lets off a faint sparkle of thaumic warmth.
Elder leans across to Sebus, his great bulk sweeping through the air sure as a leviathan. ‘I shall pray to our Academy’s patron, Bereth the Benevolent, LandShipMaster Grimm,’ he pronounces in funereal tones.
‘Your allegiance in this matter is greatly appreciated, SlipMaster Cambian,’ intones Sebus and they turn to face one another, execute an odd, staccato dance of bows, five in total, before Sebus walks the plank to the portal.
The last thing Elder sees before he manipulates the rope for the departure horn is the pale length of Sebus Grimm’s face, glowing in the dark circle of the portal’s diminishing black eye.
Thaumic gas torches flicker sickly yellowish light across the vast girth of the Peggy Dunne’s belly, illuminate brass strapped wood and ceramic floors polished to a high shine between a mad array of bizarre makeshift dwellings. The lights flare in union with a sizzling hum as the engines ignite and begin to churn.
The hold’s a maze of those odd smallholdings. Strange tri-pointed tents, luminous sheets draped in elaborate swags across collapsible wooden skeletons, little black pods and glowing domes emitting their own subtle static and hum. Rolls and packs demarcate boundaries between camps and everyone seems to know one another, chatting at ease as they pass and intermingle.
The din of noise swells as the engines thrum builds through the hold and voices seek to shout over it. Laughter rings out. Hands begin to pass out dripping packets of meat, rounds of unleavened dough and foil-wrapped tubers. Delicious scents fill the air as families set to cooking dinner over the sweltering heat of elaborately grilled engine vents.
In the corner, still as night time on the ledge of a round port-hole, he sits slowly polishing stinking grease into the huge red oak stock of a trigun half the length of his leg, and almost as wide. His hat’s tucked down low over features chiselled as a ledge of stone and all as inflexible.
Beside him sits a sleek black cat, tail ticking to and fro slow and mesmeric as a pendulum. Tall as his shoulder even seated it purrs softly to itself, great yellow eyes scanning the room, a gaze of lazy menace. It lets out a soft growl. The man pauses a moment, aura snapping alert.
‘Another?’ His voice is quiet enough to strain hearing yet vibrates with an odd sort of resonance, as if echoing up from a vast mountain canyon. The cat yowls and he tips his head, face falling ever further into the shadow of his hat. ‘Greedy,’ the man responds, matter of fact.
He begins to work the grease in slow, rhythmic circles again, unconcerned. The cat swipes its head across his shoulder. Rough. More of a prod than a gesture of affection. Issues another growl, deeper than the last, a sinister edge curls along it like smoke.
The man stops his ministrations on the gunstock for a moment, nods. ‘Go then. Have words. The old bitch can’t suck enough life force to make a difference now, but I suppose it won’t do to let her devour half the serving maids.’
The cat rises. A movement of impossible liquidity. Stretches. Its back creates an unnaturally warped inverted U silhouette against the wall, as if another cat, made of shadow, lurks behind it, making shapes to scare away demons. It jumps to the floor like black water. Fluid. And as it jumps it seethes, shrinks, becomes no more than an ordinary black cat, small, slender, innocuous.
It levels a look cold enough to crack glass at the man and bounds off across the ceramic floor, darting and playing amongst the smallholdings. Rubbing past legs and raising cries of delight wherever it goes.
The man watches till it disappears, a tiny smile ghosting the edge of his mouth. Settles back to polishing his gun. Reflective shine builds in the silken wood and, for a moment, mirrors the flash of eyes as blue as burning sulphur.
Minnie waits, back flat to the wall. She’s sucked her tits in hard as she can but they’re still prominent as a loud hello in a quiet room. She frowns. Mutters to herself, tucks extraneous flesh into the hard grip of her bodice. It shudders for a moment then pops back out so far a pink nipple flashes.
Minnie stamps her foot, grabs the bodice with both hands and does a little jig, pulling stiffened silk upward and out, until the rosy nipple jiggles meekly back into hiding.
‘And stay there,’ she snaps at it, ‘bloody thing.’
She smoothes herself back up against the wall. Cranes her head to look around the corner and into the corridor. Jumps faster than a frog on fire as a hand falls on the cream curve of her shoulder. The nipple takes the opportunity to escape her bodice yet again in a flash of jaunty pink.
‘Leek,’ she squeaks, hand resting in the valley between her tits, heaving up and down wild as a ship in a storm as Minnie gasps in air.
Leek beams, pokes at the nipple. ‘Hey, sexy nipples, check out ma threads.’ She twirls. Silk flashes in the glow of white thaumic lights. Minnie jumps up and down and claps her hands.
‘Ooh, you look shiny Leeky-baby. So pretty. Minnie-mum is proud.’ She bats lashes at Leek whilst wriggling both nipples back under control. Then she leans in, all conspiratorial-like. Hisses, ‘Did you manage?’
Leek winks, merry as a barrel of cider. Rummages about in the pouchy puff of a purse dangling from her left wrist. Plucks out a single crumpled note of crisply thin, fine-printed paper. Minnie peers at it with a jaundiced eye.
‘One qu…standard?’ Her voice squeaks high disbelief. She shakes her head, tuts loudly. ‘Oh Leek, that’s just not your usual panache at all.’
Leek nods, purses her lips. ‘I know, right. Lame. Can you make higher?’
‘Lesse, shall we?’ Minnie takes the note. Smoothes it till all the creases are flattened and clamps it between her palms. ‘Hold open your purse,’ she says.
Leek jerks the string loose, holds the gaping maw of the bag under Minnie’s hands. Minnie pulls them apart as if stretching taffy. In the space between palms there’s a swirling papery mass, it crackles as if on fire. There’s a faint scent of wood pulp and sweetness then, from between her palms, notes begin to flutter down thick as ticker tape at a parade. Leek giggles, then gawps.
‘Blimey, Min, I know I said aim for larger but that’s a bit much. You sure they do standards in thou?’
Minnie rolls her eyes. ‘Trust me, Leek, I’ve been polishing cock with my tongue all bloody evening, I’ve seen mama taking cash, and there’s thou, there’s even multi-thou. Mama got a fifty thou note from some posh streak of piss for fifty minutes with Margo.’
Leek’s eyes sparkle and pop, ‘no bleedin way! That’s a thou a minute. What she do?’
The notes stop falling as the bag fills to the brim. Minnie dusts her hands together and shivers. Then grins, piratical. ‘What do you think she did? She fucked his brains out, then beat the shit out of him. He left her a hundred thou tip. Two crisp fifty thou standards, saw em just before they disappeared in Marg’s tit crack.’
‘Lucky bitch,’ breathes Leek.
‘Gifted bitch,’ Minnie snips back, then trounces off down the corridor with a little wave, leaning to stroke the lustrous fur of a small black cat as it pads on graceful paws down the carpeted corridor.
The same cat stops abreast of Leek. Affords her a shrewd yellow glare. She tugs the string on her bag tight. Glares at it.
‘What? I ain’t done nuffin.’
Leek legs it down the corridor, fast as she can go, muttering all the way and throwing darkling glances over her shoulder at the cat stalking behind her. It doesn’t move above a walk but every time she looks it’s there, padding along in her wake. Staring at her with those pools of lambent yellow.
It shadows her right to the door of her room where Sebus Grimm awaits with Meg, a key, and a smile both pleasant and tainted with disdain. He raises a superior brow.
‘Is this your feline, madam?’
Leek blinks. Looks down at her feet. The cat sits there, calmly washing a paw. She blinks again. It peers up at her, pink tongue still working between pads. Blinks in slow motion back at her, the look in its eye distinctly on the naughty side. Leek’s lips purse, thoughtful. When she returns her gaze to Sebus, she’s all coquette and ditz, eyes wide and empty as a sinkhole.
‘Oooh, yes, it’s my precious Tabkin pussum. It is okay to bring him along isn’t it. I couldn’t possibly leave him in the hold.’ She pulls at her purse, allowing Sebus to catch sight of the money, hiding a grin at the glitter of greed he barely manages to contain behind a look of condescension.
‘Of course, madam.’ Sebus reaches past them and turns a heavy iron key in the lock of their door, pushes it open. ‘Please ladies, do consider our services at your beck and call, feel free to send for anything you require.’
Leek and Meg sweep through, swishing their skirts. Leek pats her hip, ‘Come Tabkin.’
The cat’s eyes narrow, pupils shrinking to a thin strike of black. Then it rises, leisurely, and trots in past her slippered feet, tailing flicking in angry jerks. Leek plucks the key from the door, wiggles fingers at Sebus and slams it shut.
The two women listen as the shuffle of retreating feet drifts further away on down the corridor. Then Leek shakes out her skirts, props her fists on her hips, and turns on the cat.
‘All right, Tabkins,’ she drawls, teeth on display, ‘what’s the pretty moggy up to? Spill it.’
Meg clears her throat. ‘Ah don’ reckon a cat kin tawk, Leek.’
Leek snorts, the sound verges on the melo side of dramatic. ‘That is not a cat,’ she snaps, ‘I can see straight through its morphic field.’ She leans down and levels the cat with a beady eye, filled to bursting with scorn. ‘That’s no more a bloody cat than I am a bowl of poxy fruit loops.’
The cat growls then lets out a yowl that fills the room to brimming. It rises to its back paws, effortless, hisses, begins to grow. Leek’s mouth drops open, dumbfounded. Whatever she was expecting, it clearly wasn’t this. Meg totters backwards, screaming like a squeaky wheel, as it rears above them.
Reaching human height, taller than long-meg Leek by a good few feet, it wavers, ripples in and out of focus as if obscured by water. There’s a sucking of air, a slight pop, a shiver in the ether, and before them stands a tall, gloriously beautiful, half naked man with tousled black hair falling straight down to his arse. Leek licks her lips, recovering quite swiftly from fairly high levels of shock and awe.
‘Oh my,’ she says, grinning lascivious as cheap rent-a-porn, ‘who’s a pretty kitty then?’
© Ren Warom 2011