There was a time when the Moon was a great presence in the sky, with a smooth brilliance equivalent to several of our later day Moons, but this was before the Kaiser and his ilk had their way with her, sending the Moon away with scars on her face and forever troubling that beautiful visage. Not many know of these events because, in shame, those who did these deeds have blotted them from recorded history, but I, Count Sensenderfer, was there; I was an eyewitness, and further was involved intimately with the proceedings; I will now relate to you the events of those crazy days that saw the very face of two worlds changed. Some will no doubt question my veracity, however I assure you that everything I will tell is the truth, unfiltered, except by my literary style. Still there will be whispers, if not outright shouts, that these happenings are falsehoods. But look to advantages my friends, those who question me have their own motives and interests to protect. Examine them! See not if they have reason to lie. I have no such ulterior motives and am of clear conscience as I begin this story. Let any who call me “Liar” come forth if they dare, and say as such to my face, we shall meet on the field of honor! Let them all come!
The event that set all in motion was the announcement of the Gun Club of Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States, that they were going to send men to the Moon by means of a huge gun that would shoot a projectile containing multiple passengers. The audacity of such an endeavor, given the state of mid-19th century technology, was astounding. When the world awoke to the shock, the leading people of the nations around the world wondered, not as a sensible person might about the sanity of such a venture, but rather, why no one else was attempting such a journey. What of the world’s great empires: Were there no British, Russian, or French subjects of equal capacity to these upstart Americans? What of the glory and renown of such an achievement? A maelstrom of activity was set off, as many around the world took up the challenge. The Americans had a head start and would get the first shot off, literally, in the race to the Moon, but they would eventually be joined by projects from Britain, France, and Russia. Further, the newly forming nation of Germany, which was overflowing with national pride and energy (that had already found an outlet in a war and its subsequent victory), would now channel these strengths towards a national endeavor to reach the Moon. Though many other efforts were announced by numerous nations, none of them really had the resources necessary for the trip, excepting the one which I led from the tiny nation of Freedonia.
The plans of the Americans were audacious indeed, though they would be dwarfed by later endeavors, as we shall see. The Baltimore Gun Club would fire its Moon shot from a Columbiad (as far as I can tell, Americans believe this means “big gun”) that was cast in situ in a 900 foot deep vertical shaft. The cannon bore was 9 feet across and the sidewalls were of a minimum thickness of at least 6 feet, allowing for firing of an aluminum shell carrying three passengers. On board would be Mister Barbicane, who was president of the club, one Captain Nicholl, and, for some reason, a Frenchman of the name Michael Ardan. As the world awaited word of the American team, the other countries moved forward with their plans.
The Royal Society in London was the leading scientific voice in the British Empire; as such it would lead the British effort. They found the American plan to be exceedingly “crude” and, without extreme luck, most likely to end in suicide. Professor Higginslybottom was quoted as saying, “I say, if the initial blast from the cannon doesn’t bloody well blow them to pulp, then I daresay, the inaccuracy of the smoothbore Columbiad, which I doubt I have to remind anyone is of a dubious American design, will no doubt lead to them to entirely miss the Moon, that’s if they aim it correctly in the first place. What, what?” Further, they pointed out the most embarrassing flaw in the American plan: They had no means to bloody well get home from the Moon. While some may find this sacrifice heroic, most would see it as the foolishness that it was. Did the Americans have no plan of how to get back to Earth? Perhaps they had a secret plan?
As the Royal Society speculated on the American plans and alternatives, news was coming out of Germany of a monumental effort getting underway. The details were left undiscussed, but the sheer size of the preparations made any attempt at secrecy nigh impossible. Krupps the maker of the finest artillery in the world, made famous in the last war against France, began the construction of a few gigantic size guns, rifled and made of the of strongest steel. One of them began to tower over the city of Munich. Alfred Krupps explained to the international press, “The Americans, while brave, are stupid; they simply don’t have our technology. They have not disclosed the construction of their ersatz ‘Columbiad.’ But from what we have read and heard, it would seem to be a deep hole in the ground. Will a hole in the ground get one to the Moon? Nein! Unable to truly build a freestanding gun, due to a lack of proper techniques in metallurgy, they have had to rely on the earth as a reinforcement for their buried cannon barrel. I imagine the shot they fire will rupture the so called ‘Columbiad.’ It will have to be re-molded before they can fire again. We will have no such limitations, our guns will be as any normal artillery piece, albeit of enormous size and power. It will surely be ‘Der Uberschreckendeutschgrößtewaffepenisersatzscheißeheiligescheißekanone,’ however we will not go into our plans for the Moon.”
The German workings set alarms off around the globe as many thought the Moon project a smoke screen for the true purpose of these guns, as weapons. And while this fear was well founded it goes beyond our present tale, for the Germans did use the guns to get to the Moon, as we will see.
Meanwhile the Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin was floating large balloons above Munich, for what purpose none yet knew. He had experience with the United States Aeronautical corps during the war with England in the 1860’s, and thus had learned of flying large stationary balloons as observational and firing positions. Still, the problem of moving these platforms hadn’t been overcome; some balloons had been outfitted with engines, but the shape of the balloon and its inherent lack of rigidity doomed them to still largely be at the mercy of the wind. The use of oval shapes was on the rise and proving a way forward, but something was still missing from the equation in order to make the Aeronautical Corp useful beyond siege warfare.
Such happenings across the border from France led to panic among its citizenry over fear of an invasion. France’s monarch, King Vlan, sat uneasily on the throne of a country always ready for la révolution. Wishing to relieve some tensions and continue his dynasty at the same time, the King wanted to abdicate in favor of his son, Prince Caprise (named in a fit of self-fulfilling prophecy), however, to his great chagrin, the Prince turned down the crown in public. It seemed the Prince enjoyed the high life, and had no intention of giving up a life of adventure and debauchery until he absolutely had too. And even more embarrassingly, ever since the news broke of the various Moon attempts, the Prince was seen at night singing to the Moon, with one line being repeated everywhere to snickers and guffaws, “Papa, Papa! Je veux la lune!” A crisis of legitimacy was quickly developing, King Vlan decided that the only way to turn the laughs into cheers was to actually give his son the Moon. He and his son were going to travel to the Moon and claim it for France! Better a heroic death, than the mob and the guillotine. Unfortunately, the best French engineering could come up with was a copy of the Baltimore Gun Clubs designs. The French thus added “Firing Out of a Cannon” to their imposing country leading list of “Things Done to Monarchs.”
Moreover, this wasn’t the only effort with a decidedly French flair. In smoke filled rooms lit by candlelight, citizens sat at seance tables speaking with the incorporeal. Now, while this was hardly a merely french occupation, it was to reach its quintessence as an art on the soil and in aether of France. The concept of the element of aether had been around since classical times, and now many believed it to be the medium in which the spirits existed. At the time no one knew what was between the atmosphere of the Earth and that of the Moon (if it had one). Basically there were two camps of thought, excepting Professor Getränkeviel who thought it was (or wished it to be) made of schnapps. The main two camps argued for vacuum or aether; those who believed in the spirit world visited in seances hoped for aether, as it was thought to be a spiritual medium through which one could travel as an astral projection. Thus through development of their spiritual abilities, many French people hoped to get to the Moon on the cheap. Further, the French society was enthralled by the thought that the Moon was, perhaps, made of cheese. Every effort was to be made by their spiritual mediums to bring back samples.
Across the channel, the British came to the conclusion that the whole lot of Americans, Germans and especially Frenchmen were crazier than a mad dog in the noonday sun. The British Empire was the most powerful nation on the globe and had no need to make a fool of itself in this manner. The British would take the simplest route and stand behind the flag. Queen Victoria announced, “The Sun never sets on the British Empire and neither does the Moon. We shall plant our flag there and all will respect it, as is its due as the flag of the greatest nation on Earth and in the Solar system. Anywhere the British Flag flies is Britain, and all lands and bodies of water connected to that flag are Britain, where ever they be, on Earth or on the Moon; it is, and shall be, Great Britain.” This was all in the way of saying that the British saw no reason to send anyone to the Moon, they would just send the flag and that was that. The British had been playing with rockets ever since they stole the technology from the Chinese, and with the payload of a small flag all the mass of the rocket could be used for thrust; thus a every tall slender rocket should be able to reach the Moon easily. The main problem was there was no way to control the rocket beyond a simple aiming in the general direction of its target, and its flight could be quite erratic. Thus the plan was to shoot many, many rockets in the general direction of the Moon. And as the Moon never set on the British Empire an almost continual barrage could be maintained until one of the flags reached its destination. However, there was a further problem: A flag was, of course, much too small to see on the surface of the Moon. Therefore, the British decided they would fire enough rockets to mathematically assure themselves, and therefore the world, that one of the flags had reached the Moon, at which point they could claim it as theirs. Unfortunately, the number for certainty turned out to be quite large. It would take 13 months of launches from all over the Empire to be assured of success.
Meanwhile in Russia: Titular councillor Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin (Golly to his friends) took the first document from his incoming stack and meticulously squared it before him on his desk blotter. He took a sip of tea; he took a deep breathe and he looked at the top sheet; he examined the header, making sure everything was in proper order. This appeared to be from the highest levels of the Imperial government. Not that he wasn’t high on the ladder of officialdom; he was highly placed indeed. Reading on, he first became perplexed and then dismayed. The Moon! And first thing in the morning! What non-sense was this? In his agitation, he gestured with his hands and almost tipped his tea; as it was, some spilt on the document. Ink ran and a few words became illegible. Oh dear! These kind of unusual documents were highly annoying. If he took them completely seriously then he could look the fool, and if he ignored them he could look incompetent. Was someone testing him? Or was someone out to get him? Undoubtedly both! One always had enemies when one was this important. Sweat broke out all over his body, he could feel it collecting in his eyebrows. First, he must ascertain that this was, in fact, from the parties mentioned. He called over fellow titular councillor Akaky Akakievich, to help him to draft some requests for clarification. He noticed with some irritation that Akakievich was wearing an overcoat. It was, without doubt, a nice overcoat, but must he! It certainly wasn’t cold in the office. He had heard that his Excellency had even taken notice of this particular overcoat, and that there had been a party… for the overcoat! As they perused the document Golyadkin stole furtive glances at his own overcoat hanging at the door, weighing its social standing. Golyadkin got up and put on his overcoat. Both men now so attired looked down upon the confounding document.
Word reached us that the Americans had fired their huge Columbiad; the shell was spotted by various telescopes around the world on its way to the Moon; whether the crew had survived, as yet none knew. Now, we were to launch my own airship the “Hasenpfeffer” under the Freedonian flag on her voyage that I hoped would eventually take us to the Moon. My team and I were at Freedonia’s Teasdale Aeronautical field, the Hasenpfeffer was tugging at her mooring lines, impatient to be away; she was an eager soarer, though sadly not much in a headwind. George Zettlein gazed through a pair of binoculars at a distant small unmanned balloon we had released to read the higher altitude winds. “Looks to shift more easterly and increase at 2000 ft,” George relayed to me.
“Good, it is time to lift off, head east and catch the thermals of the plateau,” I said, though I knew he had already anticipated this. George, like most of my crew, had flown with me in the American Balloon Corps during the war of the 49th Parallel between the United States and Great Britain back in the 1860’s. Intrigued by ballooning and flight, many foreigners joined the special Aeronautical Corps of both sides. I, feeling that Great Britain was already strong enough, fought for the United States, and with the crew of my particular balloon, shared a bond forged in battle, kindled in the pursuit of the limits of human flight and stoked by a spirit of high adventure. Thus, when the war ended and the funding for the Corps dried up, I convinced most of the crew to come back to Freedonia with me, where my position would allow us to continue our flying. George, though only in his mid-twenties, was a valued second in command, despite the fact he could be caught daydreaming about flight; not only of people, but of baseballs; for, you see, he was the star pitcher for my baseball club, which was another of our shared passions.
All aboard and loaded, the Hasenpfeffer reached a closely calculated buoyancy; the engine would provide the thrust to carry us higher. However, before our departure, there would be a celebration to mark the occasion. I disembarked so that I could re-embark during the ceremony. Donning my Freedonian fez, I too played my part.
Freedonia loves a spectacle. There were blaring trumpets, horns, and choruses; followed by dancing bears, elephants and tortoises (maybe even a few drunken Boris’s). Ballerinas arabesquing; rose petals flung pirouetting; consiglieri genuflecting; who could deny the perfecting? Epaulettes, medallions and leather gleamed, while the plebeians, patricians and patriots beamed. Egads, what a scene. If I say more of it, there will be no end to it, and you will get bored of it; so let us be done with it.
Cue music (any glorious march music will do, if you don’t have the official versions performed by Otto von Snellerer and the Freedonia Frantic Philharmonic).
Hail Freedonia, land of the Free and Brave!
To the Moon!
Pump the gases
To the Moon!
Lift your glasses
Freedonia’s going to the Moon!
Every Aeronaut has got what it’s gots.
Freedonia’s going to the Moon!
Every patriot gets behind our plots.
Our country’s going to the Moon
Our country’s going to the Moon
We’re going to the Moon
This is a fact we can’t ignore
We’re going to the Moon
In case you haven’t heard
They think we’re going to the Moon
We’re going to the Moon
I think they think
To the Moon, to the Moon
We are finally going to the Moon!
During the drums solos, I and the rest of the crew had flown to the deck with the aid of an elaborate harness system. Upon our victorious arrival on the deck, the lines were cast off to the chorus of “We are finally going to the Moon!” The timing was exquisite, if I do say so myself. Bravo! Bravo Freedonia! The music ended.
It was just then that the Frenchman arrived pulling a steam trunk. “Hallo onboard, permission to embark?”
I almost lost his request in the grinding of gears as the engines were engaged with the props. We began to move. Grabbing my speaking trumpet, I called down; a one way dialogue ensued, “I assume you know what we are about? A trip only for the totally committed or the light hearted. Your trunk speaks to sustained purpose and attire speaks to whimsy.” He was, for some reason, dressed in a striped swimming suit. “So be it. Mr. Vandermonde lower a ladder for our guest. Forget the trunk, sir, we haven’t time. We have a rendezvous with a hot thermal. I can’t make out a word you are shouting; the din up here is terrible. Frantic arm gestures will not make me change my mind, the trunk is out of the question. It looks of great weight. The ladder recedes! To action, sir! Mr. Berthrong, our guest looks to be about 160 lbs, let that out in water ballast, if you please. Watch out below! Now don’t make a fuss, hang on to the ladder. It is only water! You are fortuitously dressed for it.”
I went to greet our guest as he came over the railing leaving a sopping trail of water. “Bravely done, sir. To leave one’s wardrobe is a trial, indeed.”
“And yet I wonder if it was really necessary. No matter. I shake your hand. Count Sensenderfer, I presume. I am Francois Abadie, at your service, and much appreciate you taking me on board,” He reached a dripping hand to grab mine and give it a firm shake, though I couldn’t help but notice there was now water on my Fluevog boots. Noticing my raised eyebrow, he added, “Pardon moi, I seem to have gotten all wet boarding your ship.”
“Yes, well it just couldn’t be helped, time is of the essence, as you must know. Plus, drenched Frenchmen are amusing, come to think of it, most nationalities are… except maybe Russians, they instead give rise to a feeling of bathos. But anyway, what a pleasure to have you on board!”
“You are off to the Moon. That is why I must join you, the nation of France awaits my success!” Francois exclaimed.
“My dear Francois, you have been misinformed; despite the lyrics, we are going to see what the Prussians are about. I feel they are up to no good, and we must find out just how disastrous an action they are taking.” Yes, dear reader, I know that I told you that I had every intention being first to the Moon, but I wanted some pretense of not being a glory hound.
“Oh no, what a mistake I have made,” replied a chagrined Francois.
“No long faces, I promise a good adventure, and who knows, we just may have to go to the Moon. Plus we are headed for the upper atmosphere which, if I guess right about your intentions, perhaps will be to your benefit. Proximity to the aether, and what not.”
“Yes, you are correct in your surmising. The swimming suit is a certain clue, I assume. While we don’t literally swim in the aether, the attire helps with the power of suggestion, for the mental leap. Such an attempt at astral projection I wish to use in an attempt to get to the Moon.”
Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh, having appeared at my elbow interjected, “The symbolic power of the tissue of tissues can not be underestimated. However, as to choice of garment, the nations differ as to the appropriate dress for astral projection based upon the analogy on which it is based, for example, the Dutch believe nothing is more important than a well balanced clog, as they liken the projection to a regular afternoon perambulation.” Professor Diogenes Teufelsdröckh’s eyes glinted with a self-adulation worthy of such erudite expression, which I, however, found a bit, let us say, unfashionable.
The Professor was a member of my team who appeared and disappeared seemingly at will. He was famous for his Philosophy of Clothes, and therefore never let an opportunity for discussion on the matter to escape without comment. Why he and his philosophy were onboard is as opaque as much of his thinking, therefore let us just punch his ticket, and move on before this becomes a “discourse.”
“Come now, we are all men of substance beyond the clothes that we wear. However, I deny not the very real assistance the symbolic can offer. As you just heard and have seen below, and now before you, in my presentation of my own person, I fully embrace the power of mere appearance.” I doffed my fez to them both.
I turned to the Frenchman, I hoped in a way that politely, but firmly dismissed Professor Teufelsdröckh, “Mr. Abadie, I have little doubt that you can find success with astral projection, because the ship’s cat and my friend, Mr. Seiji, accomplishes it with but little effort. But, of course, he is a very special case. Maybe we can discuss with him his methods. Though he can be obtuse and I will have to translate, so nothing will probably come of it. Perhaps if we bring string,” I mused.
“Before that, a small formality: I request that you follow all orders while on my ship and, further, if we do in fact go to the Moon, I will have the honor of stepping foot on its surface first.”
Abadie replied, “Of course, oui, oui, I would love to meet your feline. It is well known that they have spiritual powers, but to meet one with confirmed abilities, formidable! We believe it is possible, especially in the pure spirit aether between the spheres, to project one’s being. Additionally, we speculate that between peoples connected spiritually it may be possible to enhance or assist this ability to project, especially to the location of one of the gifted individuals. Thus, if we can get a spiritual person into the aether, or better yet to the Moon, they may be able to spiritually pull someone they are connected with to them. We are hoping to thereby set up a relay between France and the Moon. Your help in this is greatly appreciated,” Francois explained.
“And you plan to find cheese there?” I asked.
“Absolutely! All of France hopes it!”
“Well, who wouldn’t, if there is cheese up there I just might stay,” I laughed. At this we heard a meow and I felt a movement against my leg. “Ah, here is the Hasenpfeffer’s cat, Seiji, and better yet, my friend. I do believe he wishes to find cheese too. Let me give you a tour of the ship. I’m sure Mr. Seiji will join us.”
After the back scratching and leg rubbing that passes for feline-human greetings, we proceeded with our tour; the large white maine coon cat escorting us. “This airship is the design of Charles Dellschau, who is in the engine room, but you probably will meet him later. The airship is a highly unusual design (besides the wild striped colors, he insists upon) as you probably noticed. While most designers are moving away from the round shape of a typical balloon, in order to streamline their airships — thereby moving towards a model similar to naval ships — Mr. Dellschau, has continued to explore a circular design. As you can see, the deck we are on is round, there is however a bow and stern given the orientation of the two equidistant propellers on either side. There is no rudder; the helm in the center platform, moves the propellers in unison around the circumference, in almost a 180 degree arc. This, amazingly, allows us to fly sideways. The propellers can also be slightly tilted to give us upward and downward assistance, though of course we mostly rely on the gas for lift. As you can see, the gas chamber is donut shaped and is secured above us; at the center, above the helm, there is the engine room, and above that stands a mast that can hold sails (though we seldom use them), with a crows nest. The deck of the airship is the main fighting platform, with fore and aft cannon which can also fire to the sides. Below us is the gondola, containing cabins, kitchen, and bridge. I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to see the engines. They are truly revolutionary and as such their operation must remain secret. Our engines have the best weight to power ratio of any and additionally produce our lifting gas. The donut gas chamber is subdivided into four gas chambers which gives us a margin of safety. The overall design makes us by far the most maneuverable airship in existence and, due to the power of our engines, we are still one of the fastest. Only when someone designs an aerodynamic rigid airship with the lifting power for bigger engines will we be matched in speed. As to how we are going to travel in space, that I will leave until later.” We had come to one of the guns. “These are rifled 3” guns made of steel, but sadly not up to the Krupps standard,” I said patting the reassuring metal, and turning to the slightly older man standing by. “Francois, this is Harry Berthrong, he is my Ballistics Officer. A finer man at sighting a gun, setting the right charge and hitting a target at eight hundred meters you will never meet. And he is even a finer fellow. Harry, this is Francois Abadie.”
“A bad one? I’ll keep my eye on you, my eye.” Harry laughed.
“Forgive Harry’s poor jokes, Francois, he has been hit in the head a few too many times with cannon balls,” I replied.
“No, it is my big toe that I hit; it is barking today; if I didn’t do it again, barking it is,” Harry said.
“Due to the weight, how do you carry much ammo on an airship?” Francois asked
“We don’t. Only a few, that is why I care for them like my own children, like mine own,” Harry replied.
“Do you drop your children frequently, Mr. Berthrong?” Francois asked.
“I don’t indeed, sir, I don’t indeed,” chuckled Harry.
“Well, back to caressing your cannon balls, Harry,” I said
“With due diligence, sir, with due diligence!”
“Does Harry always repeat himself like that?” Abadie whispered to me as we walked away.
“Cannon balls to the head, cannon balls to the head,” I replied.
Now, before the knowing reader, the type that likes to show he has read a book or two; that gets a glint in the eye, ready to pounce on the writer; that has little to no joie de vivre; that is more literal than literary, says triumphantly, “Sir, the rifled gun doesn’t fire cannon balls!” let me say, “Fiddlesticks!”
“We will approach Germany from over the Alps,” I told the gathered crew a few hours later, after the routine of a new voyage had set in.
“Isn’t that extremely dangerous?” Abadie asked.
“Not in the least. It is incredibly dangerous, but that is what we are about as aeronauts; danger is our journey,” I replied.
“Why do we need to know what the Germans are doing? Shouldn’t we be focused on getting to the Moon?” Orlando asked. Orlando was a recent addition to the crew. We had met at the Parisian literary salon of Matilde Bonaparte, and I found her (or was it he, you see, she wore pants, which ladies just didn’t do; Teufelsdröckh wishes to interject, so let’s move on before he drowns us) a wonderful conversationalist on art and culture, which was sorely lacking with the rest of the crew.
“Well, as you know, the Prussians (yes I know, 'Germans,' but the ones in control are all Prussians) have fired a number of shots at the Moon. These are, no doubt, ranging shots, which they are able to undertake due to the rapid reusability of their cannon. The Americans had no such luxury and missed the Moon entirely; yes, I just heard, though, luckily for the crew, they would appear to have been pulled around the Moon by its gravity and are now on course back to Earth. With luck they may just hit it and live to tell their story. But back to the Prussians: They have their enormous gun, but then why is the iron ore market still so high? Clearly there is a huge demand still being made on this resource. Either someone else is building a huge gun or the Prussians are continuing to build... but what are they fashioning?”
“What of the Russians?" Octavius Catto asked. He was a young American from Philadelphia whose family had escaped slavery in the Confederate States. He had been very well educated in the North and his math and science abilities we relied on heavily as our navigator. Moreover, on the base ball diamond, his play in the infield was, to my mind, the best proof of transcendentalism.
“The Russian bureaucracy is too slow for such quick action. And I have inside men that tell me nothing has been decided yet. No, it’s not them… Americans would be shouting any new venture all over the press. If it were Britain someone would gossip, but Prussia is authoritarian enough to keep a secret. I feel it has to be them.”
“Maybe some extremely wealthy individual?” Orlando asked.
“Wouldn’t we most likely be speaking of the United States, a robber baron?” Abadie asked.
“There is the possibility of a wildcard in the mix,” I replied. “We must keep our eyes open and that is why we are going. Knowledge and information! The worry of your countrymen, in France, that the Moon trip is a German ruse for weapon production, isn’t unlikely. But I doubt that it is aimed in the near future at France. They already won their war against France. If it is war, it is probably with Russia, still I think that unlikely. I feel they really do want the prestige of winning this race and maybe more—that is the scary part. They are a new nation that wants to flex its muscles among the great nations in many fields. This technological and scientific achievement would be just the thing. But I doubt it will stop there. The Kaiser’s and Bismarck’s ambition knows little of limits, and they lead an infinitely capable country.”
I pulled down an overhead map of Europe, gesturing with a riding crop that just happened to be handy, “Our route will first take us through Italy, with which Freedonia has a open airspace treaty, through the Po valley to Turin, then we go over the Alps at the Great Saint Bernard Pass, crossing into Switzerland. We will be violating Swiss airspace, but hopefully we will go unnoticed, or at most, identified without allegiance. We will fly up the Rhone river valley to the Saint Gotthard Pass and then down to Lake Lucerne, and finally over Lake Constance into Germany. From there onto Stuttgart and whatever the Prussians are up to.”
I continued, “Before you ask about going in through France, the area along the Rhine between the two countries is the most heavily defended on Earth. Moreover, even if France agreed, such a move, easily spotted, could be used as a pretext to war. And I don’t want that on our heads.”
“Aren’t there passes through the Alps further to the East and therefore closer to the border?” Catto asked to the accompaniment of several nodding heads.
“Yes, there are, but I have some personal reasons for wishing to cross over to the west. Everyone, I’m sure, will trust me; part is simply for the adventure. I offer you glory,” I said.
“I have grown to be suspicious of glory,” Orlando spoke.
“I realize it is going out of fashion, but our lives are to be writ large,” I declared. To which I got a “huzzah” from the crew. Orlando looked at me with a twinkle in her eye, and I realized she had thrown me an easy pitch to hit. She leaned in whispering, “Shameless hussy.” Her breath on my neck caused a little thrill; I admit, I’m easily aroused.
The early morning sunlight glinted off the snow and ice covering the mountains of the Alps, the peaks were directly ahead. We had made our way into the foothills the previous day, but had to stop for the night as crashing into the side of a mountain in the darkness would have been asinine.
“Get us underway, Mr. Catto.”
“To the winch! Up anchor!”
We briefly dipped in the air as the anchor had frozen in place overnight. We descended maybe 20 feet until the ice finally broke and we lurched back skyward. We approached a great line of mountains, rising as we went. The valley we were traveling up forked; the lefthand side culminated in a massive wall of rock, topped by Mont Blanc in the distance.
Now let me paint you the most magnificent picture at the vaulted ceiling of the world. One of the greatest of vistas that one can witness as a mere mortal. I have prepared a treat of language... At this moment I’m interrupted by someone sweeping the deck, in a rather loud and very annoying way! I can’t see his face as he brushes almost over my Fluevog boots, causing me to jump out of the way. “I Never!” I signal Harry to come over. “Harry, who is this man, and what is he doing on my airship?”
“Oh, that’s the Hasenpfeffer’s new janitor, ‘old push broom.’ Don’t mind him, sir. Picked him up in Turin, we did. Saw him on the street. I believe he’s homeless and a little touched in the head. He’s got a huge push broom for a mustache, and the idea just clicked in my head. Just like that. We need a janitor and he needs a home. So there it is, so there it is.”
“Harry, if it pleases… and it does, I would like you to tell me of these ideas before you act on them,” I said.
“I was just gonna say. Before I act, I act,” Harry states and walks away with a pleased look on his face. I am left to stand and wonder. What was I saying? I don’t remember.
Approaching the vast mountain ridge, it became apparent that we would have to gain altitude.
“With the head wind we are getting, the engine power will be insufficient to get us over. We need to release ballast,” Catto said.
“Agreed. Proceed,” said I.
However, to our dismay, despite the valves being opened, nothing came out. Checking the water in the ballast tanks showed it wasn’t frozen. We had actually prepared for freezing weather with a heat exchange unit between the engine and the ballast tanks, but the outlet was to the outside of the ship, farthest away from any heat source. The ballast tanks were situated to either side of the ship, with fills at the top, and a metal tube that led away from the tank to the outlet, and this was where the blockage was located. To reach the outlet tube we’d have to go over the side or into a tank full of water, but then what? How was one to warm it underwater or hanging thousands of feet above a windy frozen cliff side? The wooden hull only complicated any idea involving an open flame. As for pumping or syphoning the liquid out the top, this was a good idea, but we hadn’t a hose. It seemed that we had come to an impasse that would require we retreat. That was until I conferred with Mr. Seiji.
I passed on our idea to the crew, giving some background, “Did I ever tell you of the time I crossed the Alps with Hannibal?”
My crew was used to such tales, but Mr. Abadie looked extremely uncomfortable. He thought he was in the hands of a madman, but was of too polite a nature to point out my insanity.
“Come now, Mr. Abadie, there are more things in heaven and earth then dreamt in your philosophy. I happen to be one of them. Time isn’t a barrier to my kind. I was with Hannibal when he crossed the Alps. In fact, his route wasn’t too far from here. How intrepid and brilliant an accomplishment! Man was made differently back then; almost nothing was trivial, the grandest goals were risked, but alas, also the worst cruelty. Nothing by half-measure. As to my particular part in it, I’m of a different nature, and while life and death meant less in those times to most, I particularly found the deaths of certain creatures unpleasant. To be precise, I had a difficult time seeing elephants used in war. The slaughter of the battlefield—and it was a different order of butchery to literally carve someone up with a blade face to face—was a chosen path of glory for many humans, but these sentient creatures had no choice. Seiji (yes he was with me) and I decided to give them one. During Hannibal’s crossing the camp guards were more obsessed with staying warm than concerned with vigilance in these uninhabited lands. Seiji was able to discern the wishes of the elephants. A few wished to stay, crushing human skulls was as exciting to them as their handlers, but a good number wanted to leave. So even though it was a betrayal, one frozen night, with a snow storm howling through the camp, I led the animals away. We made a clean escape and Hannibal couldn’t delay the army crossing to look for us, excepting a few minor search parties. There is a hidden valley in the Alps where I took these great pachyderms; where descendants of those elephants live to this day. Like Darwin’s finches these animals have evolved due to their environment, to be more along the lines of a wooly elephant. What does this have to do with our present situation? Their trunks will provide the hoses we need to get water out of the ballast tanks. But you ask, how will we lure them to drink? Well, first, elephants are far from adverse to drinking. And secondly, Mr. Seiji has informed me that if he knows one thing about wooly elephants, it is that they love edelweiss. As luck would have I have a supply of edelweiss that was meant for flavoring liqueur, but the monks of Saint Germain will, I’m sure, understand.”
How Mr. Abadie took all these revelations, I couldn’t be sure. He seemed a man slightly lost thereafter, and at the moment, I almost thought he would faint, but I knew he was made of tougher stuff than that! In the meantime he proved an able, if somewhat discombobulated, member of the crew.
We set out for the Valley of the Wooly Elephants (my naming) and made it by early afternoon. We anchored, and some crew were lowered down to secure the anchor. I decided to winch the ship down to ground level instead of venting gas, which would have required us to make more. It didn’t take long to spot Wooly Elephants. What stupendous beast they were, though smaller than than their Indian and African cousins, their hairy coats gave them the appearance of greater bulk. They had great white coats this time, for it was winter, which would then shed to a more somber grey for the warm months. Unfamiliar with humans, they proved curious, and then it was just a matter of using the edelweiss. Elephants love water and like to play with it, so some sprayed the contents of the tanks in the air such that some fell back to the ground as ice. It was an interesting, as well as possibly dangerous, sight. Luckily nobody was hurt.
After a few hours, we bid adieu to our wooly friends. Seiji, as mentioned, is able to communicate with animals, I believe through the use of mental images. He informed me that Snowball, a good size wooly elephant, had volunteered to join our adventure. Seiji politely declined this un-airworthy idea.
The now much lighter Hasenpfeffer strained against her anchor ropes; it had required fore and aft lines, as otherwise, whichever end wasn’t secure would rise, tilting the ship at a dangerous angle. We reasoned that cutting the lines would be best since otherwise we risked leaving behind whomever released them. With all aboard, the crew readied itself as Harry Berthrong and I cut through the ropes with axes. Harry’s axe must have been considerably sharper than mine, since his rope suddenly gave way before mine, even though we had timed our blows to be simultaneous. The deck lurched as the stern started to rise in the air, I lost my balance and fell overboard. The ground was very close so no damage was done, but, hearing the cries of alarm and the creaking of timbers and gear, I knew catastrophe was mere moments away. The airship would be standing on end in seconds. I lunged at the anchor, gripping the rope in my left hand, deftly untied the anchor with my right, and held on as the rope snapped upwards towards the now righting, soaring ship.
Now, I know you will say, but how did you untie such a knot with but one hand in a split second? First, my fingers are extremely dexterous. Secondly, first ship mate D.T. Vandermonde was the great-great-grandson of A.T. Vandermonde of whose mathematical theory of knots had reduced the complexities of knots to equations. D.T. had continued his ancestor's work and every knot on the Hasenpfeffer had a solution. Simply applying this mathematical key unravelled the knot. I scrambled up the line, back to the deck, as the Hasenpfeffer righted herself and sped skywards.
This time we clearly had enough lift to carry us over the alps. However, vainglory got the best of me and I order the ship to the summit of Mont Blanc. Almost frozen in place as I awaited the taking of the daguerreotype for evidence of our achievement, my mind, in its manner, was restlessly pursuing a further adventure. Back on board, I ordered us on to the summit of the Matterhorn. George Zettlein and Octavius Catto, who were about the only crew members allowed to question my authority, began a heated argument with me about the wisdom of such an attempt due to rapidly changing weather patterns in the Alps. Mr. Abadie had turned visibly white, and I know thought he was on a mad man’s ship. Knowing that my critics were right, I still couldn’t help myself, and ordered us on. While both mountains had now been climbed—I had already climbed them myself—the idea of being on the summit of both majestic peaks in one day; now that was spectacular, spectacular!
And so it was. I have the awe-inspiring daguerreotypes showing my great victory. Well, I should say “our” great victory, since I couldn’t have done it alone. Further, the worries of my crew proved unnecessary… well except, in the case of Abe der Rotebluse. But this was his own fault: Everyone knows you can’t stand still for long in freezing weather. His life seems a small price to pay for glory. It was, I admit, uncomfortable sailing away, listening to his mournful wails. But really? Did he have no sense of shame. His life was a insignificant sacrifice in the larger story of adventure, and he should have perhaps been singing the Freedonia national anthem instead of complaining about being left behind with his frozen feet. He should have thought what a fine life-like statue to the triumph of our endeavor he would make. And the views! Thank the gods he wasn’t in the daguerreotypes!
Following some uneventful time, we were now crossing into Germany, but at an altitude that would require a very observant fellow to notice, plus it was a partially cloudy day. Moreover, the air defenses of Deutschland guarded the possible lines of approach, not the impossible one we had taken. Still, I worried that we would have to go much lower to really see what was afoot, perhaps even disembark for a scouting. Such actions would obviously lead to possible danger. I ordered the flag of Freedonia down from the mast. Mr. Abadie looked at me inquisitively.
“If I do this as a citizen of Freedonia, it could be war. As such we must go as stateless peoples. We are pirates from now on Mr. Abadie, until we recross the border. It would be best for the length of our necks not to get caught.” Mr. Abadie may have run to regurgitate his baguette over the side of the Hasenpfeffer at this point, but I do not know as I turned away as any polite gentleman would.
Shortly after crossing the border we heard the report of what must have been a very large gun. Catto had luckily seen the direction of the flash on the horizon even though it was full daylight. Otherwise, we may have been at a loss as to the bearing, for the direction of sound can be very tricky.
As we proceeded, the day wore on and the cloud cover increased. Visibility of the ground grew difficult. With darkness approaching, we thought it best to let the ship drift, and resume the search in daylight, when hopefully the cloud cover would be less.
I was sitting in my cabin, talking with Mr Abadie and Orlando over a bottle of wine, which Orlando, who was the equal of any sommelier, had opened for us; I was hoping to calm the Gaelic nerves; rather I found I was talking without much reply, as he was still in frozen shock over my behavior. My observations on mating rituals of the three-toed sloths didn’t seem to be calming his mood. So it was with some relief of this most awkward circumstance that the ship lurched violently sideways and the glass windows shattered inward, spraying shards on to us. I was on the floor regaining my senses when George Zettlein burst through what was left of my cabin door. Funny, he looked to be speaking very loudly at me, but I couldn’t hear a thing. He ran over to help me up from the floor, brushing glass from my coat, as I tried to clear my ringing ears. Obviously a huge concussive wave of sound had struck the ship. I pointed Harry, who was sticking his head through the doorway, towards the crumpled form of Abadie who looked at best unconscious, and grabbing George’s arm, ran to the upper deck, Orlando on our heels. Catto had salvaged a lantern and had it lit near the helm. We looked at each other in shock, but I had figured by this time that we must have drifted close to the trajectory of the latest German moonshot. The tremendous speed, coupled with the mass of the shot would, and obliviously did, create a sound wave of enormous power. I could feel that we were beginning to descend. We must be losing gas, perhaps even have a ruptured chamber. I signaled for Catto to check the seals as best as I could; he clearly understood. George went to the helm, but most of the instruments were destroyed; however we didn’t need a barometer to know that we were descending. I gestured to him to try and release what little water ballast was left, but had little hope it had thawed. We had stayed at high altitude this entire time, and the temperature was barely above freezing. I had to find out how bad the leaks were and decide what we had to throw overboard. Harry’s children and the guns might be the necessary choice, but I was loath to give them up in hostile territory. It was just then that we were caught in the spotlight. From all sides the night lit up. We were naked in a towering shaft of light that surrounded us. Running to the side, I looked over to find that a huge circular hole had been ripped in our protecting cloud cover and that we were much lower than I thought, maybe 15,000 feet instead of 25,000 feet. In the glare from multiple searchlights below I could discern the giant black hole of the cannon barrel pointed seemingly right at me. And despite the fact I knew that there was no chance that the cannon would be able to fire again anytime soon, I felt weak in the knees. What horrendous luck to have flown right into the path of this monster, but then again we were looking for it, so maybe it was more foolishness than bad luck. Calming myself, I realized that the situation wasn’t hopeless. No German airships would be near by as they would have been kept safely away from the firing and therefore would take hours to get here depending on the wind direction. Further, they must not have any smaller caliber guns protecting the large cannon as we would already be under fire... I no sooner thought this than I noticed tiny tongues of flame shooting up from below in my direction. They were firing at us, I just couldn’t hear it! Well, at least we would be a very difficult target to hit at this range. It was then, with a certain amount of horror, that I watched a piece of deck beside me disintegrate into wooden splinters that, defying gravity, shot upwards. I had little time to be amazed at the proficiency of German gunnery, or the weirdness of a reality devoid of sound, as I ran to the ballast tanks with a new idea. There would only be a quarter of a tank left and I had realized that I could now get into the tank and, finding the outlet, remove the frozen plug. Opening the top of the closest tank, perching a lantern on the edge, I climbed into the startlingly cold water. Despite the opaque water, my intimate knowledge of the ship allowed me to quickly find the location of the outlet. Reaching down, I could feel the icy plug blocking it. It wouldn’t push through, nor could I gain purchase in order to pull it out. Beginning to panic, I shouted, “Damnation! I can’t get at it.”
Orlando tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a corkscrew. Viola! The warmth of the rising temperatures had softened the end of the plug just enough for me to turn the corkscrew into it and pull it out. With the plug removed, I told Orlando to make sure alI the valve controls were open. I ran to repeat my gambit on the other tanks. I could see George at the helm fighting with the changing balance of the ship and damage she was suffering to keep us level. I could feel that we were moving forward, so Dellschau had gotten the engine going. We just might make it out of this, I thought. It was then that the ship blew up, or rather I did.
I would later learn that a shot from below had easily penetrated our wooden hull, detonating in the hold where our stores included my extensive collection of exploding cigars, which, though safely ensconced in their humidor, proceeded to blast into my fully occupied armoire of sword canes, sword umbrellas, and stiletto parasols. The ensuing rain of blades caused extensive damage, not the least of which was the loss of the starboard prop and most of the mechanical engineering on that side of the airship. The passage of this mass of parts away from the hull had the fortunate effect of lightening the load of the ship by a considerable amount, but the unfortunate effect of both cutting our engine power in half, and adding large holes in the ship where none should be. As it was, roughly a quarter of the hull was gone, the deck where I had been was launch up and skyward, with me on it. Lucky for me (and I assure you, the Prussians who would have found me), I wasn’t sent overboard, but soaring skyward, came back to rest in the crow's nest of the Hasenpfeffer, where I was later found. You see, with the lightening of the ship, my excellent crew was able to make its escape into the clouded night. I came to with the morning light. I had an awful headache, could barely hear, and had a nasty bump on my head. In short, it had been a poor night. My devastated ship! She looked to be a floating hulk. All her graceful lines marred by gouges and breaks in her timbers. As mentioned, the damage was most grievous to the starboard side at the bow. A quarter of the ship was simply gone. If we had been a wet navy vessel, we surely would have sunk. The mast was leaning to the right side, but this actually helped to slightly balance the ship. Furthering the difficulties, the bow gun had been knocked off of its moorings, slid back the deck, and would have broken through the back railing going overboard if it hadn’t slid into the stern gun. This was the main problem: She was much too light in the bow compared to the stern, which was causing us to point at close to a 30 degree angle. This made the Hasenpfeffer even less aerodynamic than she already was, with the remaining engine pushing against a down elevator that could never bring her square. Normally I could count on my ship to outrun any vessel, but, in the present state, it would all depend. The crew was tired, having been up all night, but I knew we had much work to be done if we were to make it out of this alive. Yet, first I ordered up a hot meal, only to be informed that warm might have to do as the stove was tilted.
As the light increased with the rising sun, Mr. Pinkney (yet another crew member and our third baseman), hanging on to the tilting crow’s nest, shouted that we had two German air balloons approaching from windward. They were merely black dots without an eyepiece, but soon enough they would be upon us. We would also have to be wary of the ground, I didn’t want to fly over any military bases, which in Germany can be difficult.
Now, before my audience goes thinking that this is going to be an exciting chase, let me assure you that it is, however, with the caveat that it was extremely slow. The Earl of Dutterberry tells a joke quicker. It took hours for us to even notice a change in the true state of the pursuit. The Hasenpfeffer with all her damage was making about the speed of the Duchess of Cadbury in a chocolate shop. We had to make her faster or sometime late in the day they would have us.
Leveling the ship was imperative. We still had the last bit of water in the remaining 3 tanks since the one I had emptied was now visiting Munich. The best would be to get all the water ballast in the bow, but we couldn’t think of anyway to do this. I made a mental note that a pump and lines between tanks would be for the best in the future, when Harry informed me that, “I was just going to say that, I was just going to say that.”
“Next time before we leave, Harry. Before.”
We did the next best thing and emptied the two stern tanks. Then the real work began as both our guns had to be shifted to the forward. We had debated what to do about the guns; throwing both overboard would lighten the ship enough to completely right her, but giving up the guns would leave us defenseless. I still had hopes that with Harry’s superb gunnery we could still win, at least, a one on one fight, if necessary. Even though the majority said that it was quicker to cut them loose and wasn’t worth the time or danger, I insisted we proceed. Setting up a block and tackle took about two hours, before we deemed it was secure enough to hold given the weakened structure of some of the ship. With all hands heaving at the ropes we started to move the weighty guns towards the front. Evidently we didn’t do a good enough job. I blame Bob der Rotebluse who attached the last line. The cannon was nearing the bow when one of the ropes to one side broke and the carriage slid to the right, centering itself down the midline of the ship. In slow motion I watched, as the other lines gave way, and knew the cannon would roll straight back into the helm, shattering it. Now, you can still steer a ship without a helm, but it is an unsightly affair, and, frankly, my ship was already outside the pale. So by Jupiter, that helm was going to stay intact. As the tonnage of the gun rolled on by, I quickly stuck out my foot, tripping its progress so to speak; the carriage and gun flew up into the air, end over end, immediately over the helm and smashed into Bob der Rotebluse and the second cannon at the stern, thereby propelling the entire ensemble over the stern.
We looked at each other in not a little shock. Stirring myself, I quickly said, “Fate killed Bob der Rotebluse. Sad to say he was cursed, like all der Rotebluse.”
Harry added, “Happens on every ship, always somebody messing up the works, and it was Bob on this here ship, he got his just desserts. Our luck is sure to change now. Luck is sure to change.” While it was perhaps a harsh pronouncement on poor Bob, it was exactly what the crew needed. It had happened to the right guy, so to speak. There was justice in the world, determined by a cruel fate.
Now you might be wondering why the gun carriage didn’t crush my foot? First, I’m very quick. I was able to tip the gun and then remove my foot before it had a chance to crush it. To an outside onlooker, it was probably so fast a movement as to not even to be seen. The gun would suddenly just be airborne. Secondly, I have great boots (I had changed, of course, from my dress Fluevogs). Soft and supple leather, yet tough enough to repel tons of metal. They are made by an ancient cobbler, by the name of Sam the Younger who lives high in the Andes Mountains, and, though blind, cobbles by sense of smell. So you see, it isn’t really very hard to imagine.
I had the crew rope off the stern, where a smattering of blood was all that was left to mark Bob der Rotebluse’s shame. The better news was that the ship was now almost level and was answering the helm in a better fashion. These events had taken most of the day, and we saw now that our pursuers had halved the distance between us.
Now only losing a bit of airspace over time, the question became of whether the Hasenpfeffer would make the border before we were caught. The French border was closest, and going over the alps was now out of the question. Though the French may not accept us with open arms, hopefully Mr. Abadie could get us out of any international entanglements. The German’s balloons were now close enough for a unaided spotting, so I thought it was time, “Mr. Berthrong raise the Jolly Roger, if you please.” Harry had made one out of a white sheet with a circle for a face, squiggly line mustache, a triangle for a hat, and two crossed lines with knobs at the end... bones, I assumed. Hearing a thud behind me, I turned to find a fallen, prostrate Mr. Abadie.
“By the four winds, he takes his sleep as sure as I’s got feet, he takes his sleep, he does,” Harry proclaimed.
“Harry, you didn’t go to art school did you?”
“I was just going to say, I didn’t go to art school, no art school,” Harry chuckled. “It will do, Harry, it will do. It certainly isn’t going to be mistaken for any other nation’s flag. I imagine it will get the job done for getting us hung.”
“I was just going to say, it’ll get us hung. As sure as a German’s got a pointy hat and arse, it’ll get us hung.”
“Indeed.” I looked at Mr. Abadie. “He does take news badly. We need some limburger cheese on deck to bring him around. Nothing else will do for a Frenchman. Got to stick it right in their nose; brings them right around. You’ll see.” George went to retrieve some stinky fromage; Harry grabbed some, and unceremoniously shoved it up the nose of the prone Mr. Abadie. “Harry! You are not ramming home a charge. Gentle there. Hmmm… maybe he’s dead? No. Well, take him to his cabin, the limburger just needs time. We’ll need him when we cross the border.”
Now, for the sake of the reader, I’m going to skip ahead. It was forty days and nights of super slow speed pursuit of mind numbing repetity (This isn’t an acknowledged word but I take liberties). But you say that Germany isn’t that big. And it isn’t, but we were nearly entirely at the wind's mercy. With one engine and a ship about as aerodynamic as a quarter-eaten donut, we could go downwind, but at best hold our position versus a headwind. If you’ll consult your map, mental or otherwise, you’ll see France lies to the west of Germany, and sadly that is where the prevailing winds descend from. The German craft weren’t in any better shape, even undamaged. They weren’t really intended as more than platforms whose engines adjusted their position but otherwise would be stationary, perhaps tied to the ground. It shows how committed the Kaiser was to have his revenge by the fact they were even trying to use these craft. So it was, that within a week of our attempted escape the Germans began towing the platforms towards us. Which, while it did give us some moments of mild alarm, could be easily avoided, though usually with some loss of progress towards France.
All the while the Kaiser kept up his bombardment of the Moon. We speculated as to why, but had no theory outside of “because he can,” which is the nature of dictators. But this didn’t really sit well with me, as I couldn’t believe Bismarck would sanction such a wasteful approach. Bismarck was, of course, the brains behind the whole German nation. And a more worthy leader is seldom met in history. Unfortunately, he also looked to be our opponent in this unfolding drama.
As the salvos built up, we nightly, and sometimes daily, saw rounds hit home on the Moon. The kinetic energy caused plumes on the surface of the Moon. It led us to speculate as to what the Moon was made of: It certainly looked like it was hitting water, the way it splashed up skyward, but the fact the crater remained showed that the surface wasn’t liquid. Of course, I already knew that, but to those around me I don’t give such knowledge away. I might hint, but only in a dire emergency would I completely corrupt a human mind with knowledge of the future. Not because it could change history or anything like that; History is always changing, or rather every possibility is possible in the multiverse, so there is no one history to corrupt. Therefore, I know in the future what the Moon is usually made out of. But you never really know which timeline you're in, except it's one in which you exist, since otherwise… No, I just don’t like people knowing as much as me. Call it vanity, for that is what it is.
Octavius Catto is both a scholar and a gentleman, and a damn good middle infielder, as I believe I have mentioned. He is also gifted with an observant nature, and so he was the first to realize the Moon was farther away. The continual bombardment from Germany, and to a much lesser degree the British Empire, was pushing our worlds apart. And over days it became clear that the process was accelerating. What if it couldn’t be stopped? The sky without a Moon!
While I was mainly upset for lovers worldwide and the great loss to romance, Catto proposed that the situation was much worse. The Moon causes the tides, and probably affected earthquakes and volcanoes.
Harry worried what wolves would howl at.
Abadie, who had arisen, worried for the future of astrology.
The repercussions were countless and many would be unknowable until it was too late.
Had these idiotic nations with all their firepower noticed? It certainly didn’t seem so, as the barrage continued. Clearly, however, the German gunners knew the situation, since it would be changing their firing solutions. Evidently this didn’t matter. Perhaps driving the Moon away was the plan all along. To what purpose?
It was about two weeks into this boredom that we came upon that which the Kaiser wanted hidden. Huge black clouds covered the horizon billowing from ground level as we approached. It was as if a volcano had erupted in southern Germany. As we closed on the area, it became clear that the smoke came from the countless chimneys of smelting forges. Something gargantuan was being made. A number of balloons had been put aloft to attempt to stop us from getting any closer. And just when I thought we may have to turn away without really finding out what the purpose of this industry was, we spied among the smoke at the center of the factories an enormous horizontal cylinder taking shape, of dark grey steel. We could make out no openings. At its base, what looked like railroad tracks ran in multiple parallel lines for what looked like miles. In fact, we now noticed we were above some that reached well beyond the industrial site; these were crossed in perpendicular pattern, forming what looked like a giant waffle iron.
“Germany will lead us in breakfast goods?” George mused.
Through the spyglass I noticed the sides of the cylinder weren’t smooth, but rather rough. Which made no sense if it was to be a ship of some sort. Then I perceived that it was, in fact, coiled chain around a spindle. It was one hell of a long chain! They were going to chain the Moon! Anchored by the giant waffle iron! What audacity! Only Bismarck would dare so much. Well, perhaps I would. Come to think of it, I definitely would. I felt slightly jealous that I hadn’t thought of it first. He couldn’t be allowed to get away with the Moon!
It could only mean that they were going to not only chain the Moon to Germany, but pull it closer, making the earth satellite their own private Deutsch Mond. To borrow a English phrase, “that just isn’t cricket.”
Over the last bourbon I had on board, we discussed this horrific discovery. We figured that, until now, the German barrage of the Moon was an experiment to see how a shot could be adequately lodged in its surface. Once they had the right charge, with the extra amount needed for the weight of the attached chain taken into account, they would be ready.
I had mostly been alarmed at the international implications of this ploy. Catto, however, reminded us of the other effects such an enterprise would have. Pulling the Moon back towards earth, by at least part of the way it had already been pushed, would improve things, however, any locking of the Moon over one part of the earth would have unforeseen consequences. It would certainly skew all the tides and raise the water level in Europe. Germany had little coast line, so maybe this was considered a benefit. They probably hoped for the Moon to be rich in natural resources, which they could obtain due to its stationary proximity. Or perhaps they saw it as a huge battle station from which they could dominate the globe. How far did the Germans plan to pull it in? Did they have any real idea of what they were doing? Or was there a chance that the Moon could come crashing down to earth, perhaps killing us all. We resolved that they must be stopped.
We, however, couldn’t even get out of Germany. When we were just about at wits end, having finished the bottle of bourbon, with nary a spirit left onboard, with the sun's early morning glare in our eyes, and no way home, Seiji announced he could smell blancmange, for which he has an inordinate love. How he could pick up the faint smell, over the industrial stench mixed with the aroma of chocolate which permeates the air of Germany, is beyond me.
“Mon Dieu, he smells the Grande Blancmange works of Strasburg!” Abadie informed us.
Our spirits revived; the next day we saw the border. Sacre Bleu! The Germans were deploying a line of barrage balloons and platform balloons to our altitude to block our way, and, worse yet, there was a new airship approaching from the North and it appeared to be making much better speed than any of the previous German craft.
Looking through telescopes, Dellschau spoke, “It’s as we feared, Count Von Zeppelin has built his rigid hull airship. She’ll be fast, and her carry weight will be great, so probably a good number of guns. Normally we could dance around her, but now...” He didn’t have to finish, as the Hasenpfeffer now had the agility of a drunken platypus. The first zeppelin, here and now. I had been afraid that such a thing would happen on this timeline. The advancements were coming fast and furious. Von Zeppelin had been given carte blanche, and it showed. The main innovation was the lightweight steel frame, which gave the aerodynamic shape solid integrity for lift and the force of the engines. This first one was simple and crude, but with the principle now in place, von Zeppelin would continue to develop the idea. The sky was the limit... or was it?
“Even so, I believe we will make the border first,” Orlando asserted.
“Yes! Yes, I think you are right,” I said with relief.
George was still examining the approaching zeppelin, “What is that fellow doing at the bow, is that an organ of some type, look at the sides could those be large organ pipes?”
“I think he believes he is a viking, wearing that horned helmet,” laughed Orlando.
“Bet he thinks it’s a magic helmet,” chuckled George.
“Mein Gott! Can it be?” I exclaimed having put it all together. This was something I had feared was possible. One never really knew in which of the multiverses one’s consciousness was going to exist. We appeared to be stabilizing in one in which reality was crafted by certain creative talents. Mister Dellschau was clearly such an actor, otherwise the improbability of the Hasenpfeffer couldn’t be explained. I had hoped that it was merely an anomaly of this particular space and time. It was becoming apparent, however, that he was not alone in his abilities, there were more such persons and we were about to meet one.
We heard, arising from yon zeppelin, a swish of mighty musical notes shred the air, trilling vortexes flung to the next ascending rush; “The Ride of the Valkyries,” Orlando shouted over the music of wings beating, “What does it mean?”
“It means that the person over there playing the organ is Richard Wagner! We are in a lot of trouble! Look to the heavens!” I shouted back.
Really there was no need for the warning, as voluminous, dark, tumultuous clouds, boiled toward us over the zeppelin. A beam of sunlight cut a haloed edge and, now striking luminous metal, it hardened to pierce our eyes, partially blinding us. Emerging, drawing wisps with them, eight riders thundered towards us on what could only be called flying horses. To say we were all in shock would be putting it mildly.
The women warriors now becoming distinct against the foreboding sky, riding the galloping horses on little but mist.
They shouted, singing to the music over the winds. The glinting, menacing spears, the embracing, shining armor, waving tresses, flowing manes, capes and skirts flowing behind them; but now could be seen blood glistening on the manes and down the sides of the horses where the dead warriors would be carried to Valhalla; it was a strikingly beautiful and terrible sight.
The choosers of the slain would be on us in moments.
“Nothing a cannon ball won’t fix, I reckon,” said Harry.
Waking from the dream, I said, “Yes, they won’t be familiar with guns and cannons. Good thinking, Harry.”
“I was just gonna say,” said Harry
“However, it won’t kill them, I doubt anything we have can really seriously hurt them, they are demigods; at most we can hope to drive them off.”
“How is any of this possible? What in the world is going on? I must be mad!” shouted Catto.
“What we can’t explain is endless, this is our reality now; Catto, we only have moments; we need your help,” I said. He took a deep breath.
Harry let loose with a cannon shot, the valkyrie, showing no fear, rode straight for us, and so the fact the cannon ball found its mark was less surprising; hitting one of the valkyrie in the right shoulder, her arm and spear spun off into the air, but there was no blood. She grabbed at her shoulder, a look of surprise on her face. Her sisters gathered around her, which allowed Harry to get off another easy shot, taking off a grey mare’s head; rider and mount began to fall from the sky. However, after only a drop of fifty feet or so, the valkyrie produced semi-transparent eagle-like wings from her back. She righted herself and rose to meet us, flung her spear aside and drew her sword, a look of wroth upon her countenance. With a clank of armor, but surprisedly light tread she landed on the deck.
“I am Svipul, chooser of the dead,” she roared.
Claus der Rotebluse foolishly rushed forward, sword high; she pulled up her sword in a huge arc before he had a chance to bring his down, and cleaved him from nether personals to the crown of his head; blood shot like a fountain straight into the air and what had been Claus fell in two perfect halves.
“Bloody Hell,” George said, and unloaded his revolver into the approaching demigod. But unlike the cannon shot these didn’t seem to have enough power to pierce her armor. “Aim for the face!”
“No! Never must such a visage be spoilt! I will stop her. Stand away.” I rushed forward with my sword, which is, of course, a magical sword, named “Sir Vivimus.” Now, I’d be lying if I said I was sure that it would be effective versus a valkyrie, but this moment clearly called for a hero, and she was beautiful, in a heavily armored monster sort of way, so what choice did I really have?
“Brave, but even more foolhardy than the one who is but a blood stain on the deck, still because of the most gallant compliment, I will consider you for Valhalla once you are dead,” Svipul said.
At the first ringing strike of steel, I was relieved to know that my steel would even hold versus such a formidable opponent. Our swords sung out and we circled each other.
The other Valkyrie separated and began a much more wary approach. Thankfully, the wounded one flew back into the clouds, hopefully out of the battle. A general small arms fire had now been taken up by the crew, punctuated by Harry’s remaining cannon, and while the Valkyrie weren’t being easy targets, they at least weren’t getting into spear length yet.
Orlando, a student of various myths, tried a different tack, “Oh, Brunhilda, you’re so lovely,” she sang out.
One of the Valkyrie, to mine eye a little on the heavy side to be thought of as “lovely,” turned towards us, heading for Orlando.
“Yes, I know it, I can’t help it,” sang the circling Valkyrie.
“No one fire at her, let Orlando handle her,” I shouted.
A rush of air, followed by the crash of twisted metal as our central stairs crumbled, announced the close arrival of the zeppelin.
“I will kill the Hasenpfeffer!” yelled the helmeted Wagner.
Were we doomed? Was this the end?
It was at that moment that bursting from below deck, our new janitor, shouted, “I know that voice! The Monster is nigh! Wagner! You Worm!” Every one was a little startled by this sudden appearance and the torrent of abuse that was being hurled at Wagner from the mouth of the ship’s janitor. Even Svipul backed off for a moment.
“What’s old push broom up to now, I was just gonna say,” Harry said
“Why didn’t anyone tell me that our janitor was Friedrich Nietzsche!” I yelled.
Everyone looked at me with a “who?” look. They clearly had no idea who Nietzsche was. Remembering that he wasn’t famous in his own time outside of certain intellectual circles, I decided to forgive them. Would there be no end to the surprises? I noted to my future self, always keep Nietzsche handy in case of Wagner. The rest of the crew looked at him like he was crazy; they had no clue to Nietzsche’s importance. I, however, was elated; if anyone could overcome Wagner’s magic spell it would be Nietzsche. They had been more than just friends, Wagner being a kind of father figure to Nietzsche, but eventually Nietzsche’s philosophy had outgrown Wagner’s, and he come to understand that Wagner was a reactionary dreamer. Thus Nietzsche was out to slay Wagner (at least symbolically) and we would be the beneficiaries. There were some slips in the flow and power of the music, and I noticed that Svipul exhibited a sudden hesitation.
“Doesn’t Svipul mean ‘changeable?' Dear Lady, might we not change my announced fate? I imagine you don’t like following the orders of that musical puppeteer. Nothing has been decided here, not of your own free will.”
“Tempting words coming from a dead man. It just so happens I agree with Herr Wagner. Kill the Hasenpfeffer!” she yelled and launched an overwhelming attack which I found myself barely blocking, backpedalling furiously, I looked for only a way to stay alive.
“Wagner you aren’t an artist, you are an actor of children’s tales! That neck beard makes your face look like an inverted schwanz!” Nietzsche bellowed.
Wagner began playing “The Flying Dutchman,” but he was clearly starting to lose his temper and his playing became more and more ragged. “North winds, blow! South winds, blow! Typhoons, Hurricanes, Smog!” He howled into the wind.
Everything was being thrown everywhere. It was impossible for anyone to aim, the battle quickly became a struggle to stay upright, on both the Prussian Zeppelin and the Hasenpfeffer. Wagner’s rage threatened to take us all to our deaths in a thundering tempest. I fell to the deck and slid across it, I had to let go my sword in order to catch a railing as I went over the side. The Valkyries weren’t affected by the tempest like the rest of us, Svipul walked securely across the planking and picked me up by the neck, holding me easily above the deck.
“You aren’t human, are you?” She seemed more curious now than angry. I gurgled out a sound of some sort. “You were right,” she continued, not apparently concerned with my answer, “I do not like being told what to do. Wagner no longer determines your fate, I do. Let me see. Live? Die? Lose parts?”
At that moment her head came off as George somehow had managed to stay upright long enough to land an axe strike across her neck.
“What did I tell you about that! I had everything under control!” I yelled crawling my way over to where her head lay.
“It damn well didn’t look that way! Be thankful! You don’t play with monsters, you kill them!” George howled back.
“Death, that hath suck'd the honey of thy breath, Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty!” I said, into her dead face.
“Gods, shut thy bootlicking mouth!” Her eyes flew open, I dropped her head, “You’ll pay for that. I will come for you when it’s time,” she said, then her body and head vanished. It seemed I should be worried.
Wagner, still under a schwanz wilting assault of abuse, disparately called on lightning and thunder… but it was too late.
The final blow was struck: “Jews and I will dance on your grave, you poisonous schwanzlutscher!” Wagner’s anti-Semitic head collapsed on the keyboard, his magic helmet fell and rolled away, and finally the zeppelin was thrown far, as the tempest rushed away. This part of the battle was ended.
Approaching the last obstacle of the border, we were at the maximum altitude the Hasenpfeffer could now maintain. What little could be gained by jettisoning odds and ends could be adjusted to by the German balloons, thus it wouldn’t seem that we could go over top the enemy blockade. George Zettlein thought that perhaps he could steer us through, with the crew pushing off cables to the side, but this would be most dangerous under fire from the platforms, with a great possibility of fouling the ship in the cables.
Harry wanted us to land and assault the border. And while a glorious death did hold its attractions, the crew voted against the attempt with one abstention.... Mr. Abadie had passed out on hearing the plan.
Perhaps we could board and take a German ship, but that seemed a long shot, given the state of our own. Therefore, it was necessary that I come up with a plan. And so it was.
“Full Speed ahead!” I shouted.
“Sir, you know we are already making ‘full speed’ of 3 knots,” snarked George.
“George, do I discern a note of derision in your voice?”
“I’m not really in a mood to have one of these debates about manners, let's just get out of this,” George replied.
“Proper conduct is the root of discipline, which is the root of a well run ship. There is always time to discuss that!” I instructed.
“Are you talking like this because you don’t have a way out of this?”
“You disappoint me, George. I’m Herr Count von Sensenderfer, I always, already have a way out of everything!”
He just stared straight ahead, his lips a straight line, our course a straight collision course for the row of cables and balloons.
A moment passed.
George slightly puffed his cheeks and blew out, a habit of his whenever things weren’t going well; I had seen him do it many times on the baseball diamond.
Another moment passed. Those cables did look thick.
“Harry! Here is what I need you to do. At my signal you will cut open a sizable gap in one of the aft gasbags aimed at a downward 45 degree angle so that we are temporarily pushed higher and faster over the enemy line. We only need a 100 yards to get over, and then it won’t matter that we sink to earth. You’re an expert at angles, and so I trust you to make any adjustments necessary. Obviously you will need to clear a straight outlet, there is some thin metal shielding we use in the engine room that could be easily shaped into a funnel.”
“I was just going to say, it can be easily done, sir, easily done, but once that gas is gone we aren’t coming down gently, no sir, with only the three gasbags she’ll go quick as crispy pot-bellied pork.”
“Stop exaggerating! That can’t be helped at this point, now get to it.” I continued, “George, do you think you will be able to steer her during the descent? We will have forward momentum that I don’t want taking us back across the border.”
“Get Octavius the hell over here maybe he can run some numbers and give me some idea,” George yelled.
We huddled with time running short… three lines were intercepting: us, the balloon cable line and the pursuing German balloons. The balloon line was now in range and began to fire on us. The bee like wiz of bullets could be heard. I heard a thud behind me. Mr Abadie again.
“Bloody hell, he’s putting dents in the deck and knots in his head at a prodigious rate! Can’t blame him though, poor chap wasn’t born to adventure.” George said.
Harry yelled down that he was ready. “Wait for my call, Harry. You lads, get out there and return fire. Keep their heads down. George, keep her steady. Well men, when do you think we should give this a go? Soon now I should think.”
Catto said, “ The force in that bag is great, Harry better hold on up there.”
George Zettlein looked at me, “I’d say it’s been a pleasure, but sometimes it hasn’t.”
“George, don’t be dramatic. Harry, commence!”
I felt a smile come to my lips as we heard a great swishing sound from above and felt the deck lurch forward and up. My grin widened as we rose… And it became apparent we had the altitude to go over the line. We could see a few faces of startled, slack jawed Prussians as we propelled above them.
“I can’t keep the nose up,” George shouted.
I ran to the ladder, “Harry, close it off!”
“I was just going to say, you said nothing about closing it off, said nothing!”
“Don’t answer, just do it,” I shouted back.
“It’s accelerating!” George shouted.
“We are going up on end!” Catto shouted.
I looked forward, and grabbing on for dear life… saw the ground, though luckily thousands of feet below. Still, a balloon isn’t supposed to be at this angle. Everything in the cabin began to fall forward.
“I was just going to say, I can’t close it.”
“I’m steering at maximum against the spin, but it’s increasing!” yelled a frustrated George.
“I’d venture that this is very bad! Did you ever see a party balloon that the air is let out of!” shouted Catto.
I could now see sky again but it was towards the floor. Everything loose was falling to the ceiling. George was now hanging upside down from the helm. Catto and I fell to the roof, with poor Mr. Abadie flopping down beside us. I grabbed some rope, “Here, help me secure Francois so he doesn’t fall out!” Catto and I had just tied him to the rafters, when the cabin gave a crunching sound as it fell into the balloon which was now below us. The ladder, vocal tubes and control lines weren’t meant to support weight, so they crumbled under the load of the upside down gondola.
“I was just going to say, OUCH!” yelled Harry from below.
“Harry, you ok down there?” I yelled back.
“I’m alright, I’m alright.”
“We are headed back into their line! What if there isn’t enough pressure left to continue the loop?” George yelled.
“We’re doomed if that happens. Harry, you’ve got to slash open the other bag! Don’t say anything, just do it immediately!”
“But it isn’t aimed right!” shouted Catto.
“Where else is it going to go; least most of it!”
“He’s right. Besides, we don’t have a choice.” confirmed George.
We heard a tearing sound below and thankfully we continued on our loop. Holding on as best we could, at least now we knew what to expect, we had to hold on until the ship was almost all the way upright, as releasing before that could lead us to falling overboard.
We were back on the correct course now, but we had to shut off the leak, or at least slow it, or we’d go over again. I quickly climbed up from the cabin, attempting to get into the Balloon using a hanging rope which now was the only access as the ladders were wrecked. When I got to the hatch I couldn’t push it open; pressure in the balloon was too great from the ruptured gas bags. I had nothing to use for leverage as I was hanging by a rope.
Then we got lucky. I have heard people say they make their own luck. They prepare so well that “luck” is guaranteed. While I applaud their arrogance, they are still fools. It is impossible to account for all the variables, and if everything stacks against you and goes the wrong way, there is little that even the best laid plan can achieve. Let us not forget the nature of the adventurer is to place him or herself in a position where nothing is assured. If you are certain of the outcome, then you are no adventurer. Therefore, I don’t depend on making my own luck, rather I am lucky. It is just part of who I am. Now, before you go thinking, “that isn’t fair. Why does this Sensenderfer character get to be lucky. And he doesn’t even work at it!” etc. etc. How do you know you're not lucky? You’re reading my tales, aren’t you?
The first gasbag that Harry had cut open was now empty, and must have pulled partially away from it’s moorings, being sucked by the release of pressure towards the hole in the outer balloon; it now plugged the gap, stopping the release.
I think we all held our breath when the sound of escaping gas stopped for fear it would almost immediately come right back. It was holding. I let myself down into the cabin on the rope. Looking around I saw sudden smiles. One problem averted. However, now we were plummeting to earth in an elliptical trajectory from almost 20,000 feet. The remaining gas was holding us back slightly but we would soon be falling at an unsurvivable rate, well, at least for the rest of the crew. I doubted that I would die. The smiles were turning to frowns as it became apparent to everyone that our speed was too high.
I would hate to see them go. I had grown quite fond of most of them, though come to think of it each of them had habits that I wouldn’t miss. A severe crash would entail a serious loss for my baseball club. I wasn’t even sure I could field a team. What a bother!
“We are over the border at least.” George said.
The ship was arcing over the French defenses that faced their German counterparts, mere miles away. Strasbourg was below us. I could start to pick out individual streets and buildings below.
“There is a wonderful bistro right over there where you can get the most delicious presskopf, some kouglof for dessert… I met a particularly intriguing mademoiselle there.”
“Is this your way of saying that you have no idea what to do?” said George.
The sound of the wind rushing past the cabin was now a roar.
“At least I die a Frenchman and not a pirate! Vive la France!” We heard from above, where Mr Abadie was still suspended.
I watched as a bird flew by. Seiji leapt up on the railing to watch too, and even as he knew there was no chance to get the bird, he made feline pretense. Obligations fulfilled, he turned to me as the wind made his hair stand on end. He told me, “It’s very near!” with a wide eyed look. Before I could ask him what, there was a tremendous crash as we hit what must have been the roof of a building. Slammed to the floor, I guessed the next feeling would be the incredible pain of contact with terra firma.
Instead we splashed down into a huge vat of blancmange!
We had survived the adventure over Germany by a cat’s whisker. The ship was, of course, a total loss. Luckily, I had another one in storage of exactly the same design. You probably find that unlikely indeed. However, you must remember that gentlemen of the 19th century always had a pair of backup trousers in case of unforeseen accident, and my ship was like my best pair of trousers.
After some harassment from French authorities, due to our unauthorized entrance into their country and the subsequent destruction of a perfectly good vat of blancmange, fortunately cleared by Mr. Abadie, we embarked via train for Freedonia and my estate’s aerodrome. It had taken no little convincing to get Francois to join us, but, with assurances of a definite trip to the Moon, he finally relented. I would have missed his often unconscious form, so I was very pleased. The rest of the ensemble was bandaged up and ready to go. We had to lighten the Hasenpfeffer by a great amount if we were to travel into the extreme upper atmosphere, and with much wailing and, I must insist, tears, Harry, disembarked his children and guns which would have been of no utility in the vacuum or aether of space. Additionally, I had recruited new members of the Der Rotebluse clan to flesh out the crew.
What had been happening in the race for the Moon since we had been incommunicado? Germany continued blasting away at her surface, as we had seen, without the rest of the world knowing the true purpose of their efforts. We discussed releasing our discovery, then decided it best to simply stop the German effort ourselves rather than getting involved in a propaganda-fueled war of words over the veracity of our information. Further, we didn’t think it wise to let the Germans know who exactly had been flying over their country. Intriguingly, rumors whispered of Prussian grenadiers onboard shells and of a giant line seen rising in the sky.
The American team from the Baltimore Gun Club was to fire its second round within a few days. They claimed this shot would be on course and that they, therefore, would be the first to reach the surface. Proof would be in the pudding, I say. They were flying with the same crew as before, excepting the addition of a freelance reporter, one Lilly von Windenhammer. The poor young woman seemed to be trying to make a name for herself, taking a job that no one in their right mind wanted. I will admit that the story, and drawings of her in the press, were intriguing, and I knew that we were in trouble as soon as I showed it to Francois Abadie, for he literally swooned at the romance of the tale of the beautiful young damsel being shot to the Moon. There was still no word as to how they planned to return. Would they be stuck up there forever? Would she be forced to breed a new colony of humans on the Moon? The imagination pales at the thought, provoking the possibility of a rescue in the fevered mind of Mr. Abadie, no doubt.
I had more immediate concerns: How soon could we get padding installed on the deck? Cork was light and gave some cushioning to a fall. Mr. Abadie’s head was certainly in need of some.
The race was heating up and the various claims were being lodged. The Americans promised this shot would place a man and woman on the Moon; and while it was impossible to know, as of yet, whether a British flag had reached its lunar target, Great Britain was bloody sure one had: The American upstarts would be considered trespassing on British Moon soil! Lest we forget, the French King Vlan and Prince Caprise had shot off into space and not been seen since, leaving France leaderless; but no one seemed to notice a difference. Wasn’t a monarch and a prince worth more than a flag or a club president? Vive la France! Russian bureaucracy drafted proposals and counter-drafted proposals, assembled committees and disassembled committees, on all these subjects and more. Perhaps an international tribunal should be adjourned. Or was it time to take up arms!
Our own Mr. Dellschau insisted that this debate was all null and void since his friends had been to the Moon back in the 1850’s; none of us truly believed him, but, seeing that the design and workings of our ship depended on him, none of us were willing to refute him too strongly either. Though, to tell the truth, I didn’t know if he really believed it himself. He had a better sense of humor than most gave him credit for and there was a possibility it was all a joke. There certainly was something magical about his designs, yet he claimed most of the ideas really belonged to other designers he had known in the past. I believe this was a kind of necessary delusion, something he needed if he was to make his creations. I didn’t want to mess with the delicate balance of his creative mind.
Meanwhile in Russia: titular councillor, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, (Golly to his friends), looked up at the growing crowd around his desk with an expression bordering on alarm. Actually, he was now more than alarmed, for, just moments ago, Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin Junior (Golly Jr. to his friends) had arrived, leering over his shoulder at the document in question. The presence of this personage, who looked so much like him they could be relatives, no, let us be honest, twins, was a source of infinite anxiety to Mr. Golyadkin. Why couldn’t they just say this and that, and be, if not friends or brothers, at least associates of mutual respect? How could he have forgotten that this rascal was sure to show up at the first sign of discomfiture for Golyadkin? It was very hot. Golyadkin Jr. was remonstrating to the crowd about the lack of efficiency within the office, because of certain councillors who couldn’t perform their duties in a timely manner. There were many nodding heads and murmurs of agreement. Why was he wearing this heavy overcoat! Everybody seemed to respect, no, let us be honest, it was much more than that, they liked Golly Jr. "While I receive not but sneers and am seen as a pariah. Was there no justice? Junior was the worse kind of blackguard!" Golyadkin swept his hand across his brow and looked up into the madding crowd surrounding his desk. He felt himself almost beside himself, lost, in a fever; and he looked down at the document for any answers. Oh my God, it was an ink smeared mess from his sweat drenched hands! There was a howl of derision from the crowd.
So it was that we set out, nearly a fortnight after our crash landing, without fanfare or any press announcement, for our own attempt at the Moon. Steadily gaining height, we were obviously going to higher altitudes than ever before. The gondola was mostly made of wood, and though constructed to remain as airtight as possible, with various inner and outer coatings, we expected to slowly lose breathable air over the course of our travels once we left the atmosphere. We had a large cargo of compressed air, which we would be releasing in a steady stream in order to counter this problem. When we got high enough to leave the air surrounding the earth, we had to be prepared to enter either vacuum or aether, neither of which did we know the effect of, on our craft or us.
At 30,000 feet the air outside the cabin was too thin to breath and the cold began to be felt. At 50,000 feet our outside thermometer wouldn’t go any lower. We could all still breathe thanks to our contained atmosphere, but the cold was quickly becoming a problem. Luckily we had known about the declining temperatures from our experience on shorter ascents. The team was outfitted with the best arctic gear of the time.
We were leaving the upper atmosphere behind, but now the balloon gave us no further lift as it was impossible to be lighter than vacuum or aether. We couldn’t really tell whether it was vacuum or aether, as how do you tell the difference between two substances that, to all human senses, do not exist? The propellers couldn’t find purchase in the nothingness and we came to a stop. It was time for a glorious triumph. As you know, the Hasenpfeffer was rigged with sails and mast; but we carried not just traditional canvas sails—they of course would have been of no use—but sails meant to catch light. Light, of course, is a particle with force and energy; we just had to catch a sunbeam and ride it to the Moon. The sails were coated with lunar caustic, scientifically known as silver nitrate. The name “lunar caustic” is derived from the fact alchemists call silver “luna” because of a believed connection with the Moon. This was the same substance that was used to coat the back of mirrors for many years. I will add that it was not only effective but beautiful, which is something I believe in mightily. One must never limit oneself to the merely effective solution, but always consider the paramount importance of aesthetics.
In order to set the sails we had to go outside the cabin and unroll the them manually. Putting on ever more insulated gear (to the point of near immobility), we also had to contend with the lack of air; this was overcome by the use of an ingenious cone, rather like a speaking trumpet, made of glass, except at the back were it attached. Through this opening at the back, one placed one’s head inside. Your head was then locked firmly at the collar within the cone. You had 270 degree of visibility and, best of all, as your air was depleted more could be poured in at the open top. As long as you didn’t tilt your head too far, the air wouldn’t pour out. The miracle of gravity pulled the air molecules (which are heavier than anything else at that altitude) down into the cone where we could breath them. Thus, we carried along pitchers of air to replenish our supply any time breathing started to become difficult. Now you might ask, “Why not a fish bowl shaped helmet?” First, getting more air into a sealed helmet is a difficult problem and, secondly, who ever heard of parading around with a fish bowl on your head? The cone was much more fashionable.
At this point there will be some in my audience bringing up various technical problems with our adventure. To you, I say, repeat this mantra: “It’s just a reality, I should really just relax.” I can’t be responsible for all the laws of the multiverse. Cold this, and pressure that; yes, yes that would be a problem, but we didn’t know any better at the time. You must always keep that in mind. In many universes this wouldn’t have worked, but in this particular one it did. So do go on. Few are impressed with your exhaustive knowledge of the “xyz” universe. Do get over yourself and join the fun. Or don’t. It makes little difference to me. Besides, in the “xyz” universe the cosmic rays would have turned the crew into something resembling corn dogs. Now, I ask you, what kind of adventure would that be?
Back to the story. It had taken the most of the day to get to this altitude, which was at once fortunate and not so. If it had been noon, with the sun directly overhead, we would have been becalmed, as the solar rays would have been hitting us from above. Now, as the sun began to set, the sails began to catch, and we started to gain a little momentum. Darkness would soon cut this off with the setting of the sun, but we were moving towards the dawn and the night wouldn’t be as long. We could then maneuver to get out of the shadow of the Earth and steering down sun, catch the Moon on its swing away from the sun. With solar sails it is possible to head into the sun just as it is possible to head into the wind with canvas sails, but this is a tedious affair, with much tacking back and forth for little gain; therefore, one always wished to go away from the sun.
What a vision of dawn we had; the sunlight was of an intensity unknown on Earth, the curve of the planet clearly visible. Now in a low orbit, we steered a course for the rumoured line arising in the sky. As you may have guessed, the location was back over the skies of Germany, but this time we would assail German airspace at a much safer altitude. We had deduced that the “line arising in the sky” was, in fact, a shell with an attached cable that had been fired towards the Moon. As information was sketchy at best, we approached the location with both trepidation and curiosity. First, we saw something of epic proportions on the horizon. It turned out to be a large floating station, positioned in the stratosphere directly above the waffle works we had investigated in our sojourn over Germany. A multiplicity of balloons floated an expansive central platform and supporting structures. On closer inspection we could discern the cable line arising from the middle of the station and then on in the direction of the rising Moon. We surmised that when the shell was fired the cable couldn’t have been anchored in Germany, as it would have wrapped around the Earth in the time it takes to travel to the Moon. Therefore, the Earth end was free floating at the location of this station. The next stage, now that the cable had evidently landed on the Moon and was stable, would be to lower a cable end to the anchoring works when the station was at the proper coordinates. It was impossible genius.
Through the eyepiece I detected something moving on the cable line. We could get safely closer, for we were at a higher altitude and, therefore, out of their reach. The whole cable was alive with movement. It was Prussians. They were going hand-over hand to the Moon! Well, I must say, I didn’t expect that. It was a continuous line of them, extending all the way back to the high altitude balloon station. They must be numbering in the thousands by now. We tried to speculate just how long it would take to travel hand over hand to the Moon. Catto figured that, at the very least, it would take 9 years to get to the Moon by this manner of locomotion, and in all likelihood it would, in fact, take much longer. We marveled at the insane dedication to the Kaiser such an attempt must require. I only wondered that they weren’t goose stepping to the Moon; no sooner had I thought this than we noticed further up the line they were, in fact, laying planks on the top of the cable, allowing them to do precisely that: Goose step, single file, to the Moon. Goose stepping in a space suit on a foot wide plank in zero gee is no easy feat. Even with the aid of magnets in their boots, which they were beyond doubt using, this was a tribute to their supreme training.
We didn’t have time to be mesmerized by Prussian precision. Moving away, we continued to climb out of the Earth’s orbit, onward to the Moon! The trip was a fortnight affair, of unrelenting boredom for some, untold beauty and splendor for others. Beginning the journey near Earth, seeing the thin slip of blue and various colors, edge on from our perch in near space, that sheltered all that most of us had ever known, was an awe inspiring and humbling experience. Ending the journey near the Moon, seeing the glowing, mostly blue globe, slowly spinning, with countervailing clouds and weather patterns. How could it even be real?
I had obtained, before we left, a copy of Jules Verne’s book detailing the Baltimore Gun Club's first trip to the Moon, reading it with great interest to discern its veracity, and also to see what we ourselves might encounter. They had gone to great lengths to cushion the occupants from the harms of the blast that had launched their adventure, and it appeared reasonable that they had survived the discharge of the gun. This had been my first question regarding their journey.
Moreover, there was an amusing section detailing how objects released from the space shell weren’t left behind but maintained their position alongside due to the lack of any environmental friction. Like memories we wish to forget, but are ever present; skeletons in the viewport. This, however, wasn’t the case with our voyage, since our velocity was varying with the acceleration from our solar sails and our eventual deceleration before our rendezvous with the Moon. Objects released at the height of our acceleration would catch and pass us as we neared the Moon, in a deja vu moment.
The internal fixtures of the space shell used by the Baltimore Gun Club were of a well appointed salon of a respectable American, which had me at a bit of a loss, since the absence of gravity should make any attempts at normal living, ensconced in velvet chaise lounges and such, rather silly. I began to wonder again if this was proof that they, in fact, had fabricated the whole story. I found myself surprisingly disappointed, but the truth of the matter was of importance to us.
Catto was near by talking to Dellschau and I called them over and told them of my concerns. Catto looked at me with an amused expression on his face, “Hadn’t you noticed that you are sitting in a chair?” I was dumbstruck. This certainly wasn’t right. “Catto, you know there shouldn’t be any gravity on board? What would be the source? The ship is of insufficient mass to create enough force.”
“Yet here we are. Count, I haven’t an answer to the anomaly, except the noting of its improbable nature,” Catto replied.
Dellschau added, “I could have told you this is the way. My friends have already been here and back. Why do you not listen to me? This ship is improbable too. And yet you fly in her!”
As a traveler of all time and space, I had dealt (will deal) with this. But I was sometimes unsure as to my footing, so to speak. I didn’t write the rules of the different multiverses I traveled, and you must remember they were being created and destroyed in endless arrays as we journeyed through them; I won’t even begin to attempt to figure or discuss my identity within this matrix. At this very moment I was dying countless times. I only knew I was one who kept living, because all those others were closed books.
As I mused about my extraordinary place in the universe, I felt a pinch of hunger, and knew it was time for a bit of cheese and wine, perhaps a baguette. I thought how weird it was the Hasenpfeffer operated on the same form of matter as I.
Oh, you say I haven’t told you about the secret power system as I couldn’t show it to Mr. Abadie earlier. Well, silly, if I told you, it wouldn’t be secret! But, because this writer grows fond of his readers (I do love an audience!), I will tell you. However, only you, no telling the Frenchman!
To explain: According to Dellschau, as a member of the Sonora Aeronautical Club of California during the 1850’s, he and his comrades had proposed many airship designs but always ran up against the same problem as everyone else: lack of lifting and engine power. The club, therefore, for a number of years, was little more than a social entity, with much feasting and drinking. One member had a vineyard from which they procured wine, and one particular night found them drinking his latest vintage with some fine aged manchego. All at once, the members of the club began to experience terrible and embarrassing gas troubles. To everyone’s shock, they experienced not only bloating, but found themselves afloat! Dellschau realized some reaction was taking place in their stomachs which had to be stopped before they all exploded, or floated away. Grabbing various food items still within reach, he discovered that luncheon meat, particularly olive loaf, immediately diffused the gas, stopping the reaction and relieving the awful pressure. This completely accidental situation was how the club discovered a new source of lifting gas, one which turned out to be three times as effective as hydrogen. Furthermore, the wine was shown to be an excellent source of power, as it changed to a gas on contact with cheese, then back to a liquid on contact with olive loaf, thereby driving a powerstroke and return stroke of an engine. There was little loss of fuel in this process, which enhanced its use for airships, as the weight of fuel was greatly reduced. Of course, this couldn’t be called a normal chemical reaction. Clearly, Charles Dellschau had a way of bringing his rule breaking creations into reality.
Anyhoo, whether Verne also had a power over reality was unestablished at this juncture. If I was a betting man, and of course I am, I would say, yes. Thus, so far we had Dellschau, Verne, Wagner, Nietzsche, and we’d probably have to deal with H.G. Wells. Egads, what a mess. And, I ask, why not me? Indeed, why not me? I can only assume that I’m already so blessed by the gods that any further augmentation of my abilities would be superfluous. Though I will add that I really wouldn’t mind. Why Wells should be given such talents, with his giant moon insects and hollow moon, etcetera, is beyond me. Alas, when extraordinary abilities are given to those (who are not me), one must always be cognizant of these dangerous types and their reality changing agenda, since at one time the world was flat, and then it wasn’t. The Sun circled the Earth, then didn’t. The heart was the center of being, and then it wasn’t. It was enough to cause befuddlement.
Therefore, for now, we must accept that the force of gravity was strong in the small ship Hasenpfeffer, a speck in the void between the Moon and the Earth.
How would we land on the Moon? Was there any atmosphere? The clarity of vision from Earth, and now from our vantage point in space, seemed to belie any thought thereof. I referred to Verne’s book, he strongly suggested the possibility of a thin atmosphere that was perhaps even breathable at low altitudes but would be undetectable from any distance.
As we got closer to the Moon we could see the great damage that had been done by the continuous bombardment. Where once the face of the Moon had been a spotless white orb, of pristine beauty, it was now a pockmarked and pitted sphere marred by human ambition.
Deciding where to land required a team huddle. I thought it best to land on the bright side, as far away from the Prussian landing area as possible. My thinking was that the distance would allow us the opportunity to assess the situation vis a vis the Prussian lodgment—and the environment of the Moon—without interference.
Mr. Abadie, however, was of a different mind. He claimed to be in contact, through the spiritual aether, with the Frenchman on board the American space shell. This form of communication didn’t allow for the transfer of complete thoughts, rather the emotional feelings of the subjects was the substance of the communique. He said that his fellow Frenchman didn’t feel to be in immediate danger, but was definitely feeling anxiety, which Francois was ascribing to either an injury or a looming shortage of some kind. He further speculated that they couldn’t return home. I had little doubt that, if they were in fact on the Moon, they had no means home, despite the claims of the Americans, and I really wasn’t sure the whole thing wasn’t just a ruse, with Mr. Abadie’s “communications” being wishful thinking, with particular regards towards Ms. Windenhammer. I wasn’t entirely clear how their willful disregard for proper measures was our concern.
I got the idea that the group was finding my position to be callus, and perhaps a bit mean spirited. Realizing that I could, in fact, be this way at times, I eventually decided to give in to them; we would search for the Americans before engaging the Prussians, but only after first adhering to my original reconnoiter of a safe landing spot. George Zettlein pointed out that a rescue would make for good news stories, to which I am never adverse.
The location of the main Prussian effort was easily discernible as the impact crater was immense. The shell itself was completely out of sight, evidently deep under the crust of the Moon. How deep was impossible to tell. Perhaps it had gone clean through to the dark side? But this I doubted. The giant chained cable emerged from the center of the crater and now stretched all the way back to Earth and the Prussian balloon station. So clearly the end that was embedded in the Moon was secure. What was it secure in? No one knew what the surface of the Moon was made of, let alone the Moon’s core. The density of the Moon was resolved by learned persons to be much less than that of the Earth, and from this it was speculated that the Moon was at least partially hollow. The undeserving Wells would place an ocean at the core of the Moon; with tunnels throughout the crust inhabited by a species of technologically advanced insects hoarding over a mountain of gold. A professor “Cavor” would visit them in a space sphere powered by “Cavorite.” How preposterous! How can anyone believe this drivel! I hadn’t mentioned these conjectures to anyone since my future knowledge was both disturbing to the crew and sometimes, I admit, not totally reliable. I was merely hoping for an inordinately fun future, with or without giant insects.
As we approached the Moon to the southeast, away from the Prussian site, the surface proved to look as expected, with varying shades of grey, none of the speculated gold or cheese in evidence. Even as a few of the crater sites could now be given a closer inspection, we saw nothing but different greys in the freshly disturbed crust. I must say I was a little disappointed in this, would it merely be a dull lifeless world?
Following a detail I had picked up from my reading of the Verne book, we looked for deep craters where gravity could collect a denser atmosphere, hopefully thereby finding something breathable. The overall lack of a dense atmosphere would add to the ease of landing on the surface; the potential of heat resistance was nil. And so it was that we settled in the confines of a crater with what was little effort.
Donning our cone helmets filled with oxygen, we stepped out onto the lunar scape. Ah, but, I should clarify: I stopped everyone and then I, Count Sensenderfer, stepped on the Moon first. “One banal step for the Count. One glorious gift to humankind,” I said. Though it turns out I was the only one who heard this proclamation as they had shut the door behind me and sound didn’t travel very well in the extremely thin atmosphere of the Moon (it happens there was some). Now, it was probably true that I wasn’t technically the first person on the Moon, but I was certainly the most important first person on the Moon. Therefore, later, I went to each of the crew and told them in solemn tones what I had said.
Bizarrely, the ship was still providing a greater gravity than it should, for on disembarking we immediately felt much lighter as expected given the slight gravity of the Moon. This took some acclimation, unless one wished to look an uncoordinated fool. It proved unreasonable to walk in the traditional sense, as one’s feet came down too soon in relation to one’s greater forward momentum, almost tripping the unsuspecting traveler. With a little practice a graceful gliding step could be achieved, with which, I will say, I was soon pleased. Harry Berthrong, of course, couldn’t satisfy himself with such steps, however long, when he could instead leap, which he now showed to great effect, around about the ship and crater. He even leapt to the top of the crows nest in a single bound from the ground.
While perambulating in said manner of graceful gliding steps around the inner wall of the crater, I came upon what, to all intents and purposes, looked like a small cleaver (albeit bent and partially melted) made of what appeared to be gold! I couldn’t manage the traditional bite test on the material due to the glass cone on my head, and the fact that I felt this surely beneath a Count. I had seen a fair amount of gold in my time and I was pretty sure this was the stuff. Exciting to say the least, but it was also in line with Wells, and that could lead to complications. Now apprehensive of Moon insects, I quickly went back to the ship with a few leaps, signaling the crew in with waves of my arms. The atmosphere was just thick enough that if we put our cones close together and shouted we could just make out each other's speech. I showed them the small gold cleaver and cautioned them that there might be inhabitants, possibly dangerous inhabitants. Thinking it best to arm ourselves, we returned to the ship for rifles and sidearms. I, of course, always carried my sword when on adventure, but decided it best to carry extra weaponry today. Returning to the spot of my find, with the crew now armed, we investigated.
It was Mr. Abadie who found, or rather stepped through to, the hidden tunnel just under the surface. His sudden disappearance wasn’t heard by anyone and as such went unnoticed for a few minutes, until Harry almost jumped into the hole with him. I pictured my crew slowly disappearing down this hole one by one, without those on the surface knowing. The lack of communication was the first real problem posed by the thin atmosphere which I could think of no way to quickly remedy.
Using some long rope that was tied to the ship, we lowered ourselves into the tunnel. Its ceiling was mere feet below the surface; the floor turned out to be only another seven or so feet below. Once we had all grouped at the bottom, and made certain everyone was in good condition, Catto gave us a theory as to what we had found. The tunnel was rising to a point just ahead where it had caved in, undoubtedly due to the impact of the Prussian shell that had formed the crater. There was, he inferred, a great probability that the someone or something that had possessed the cleaver was traveling along the tunnel and had been literally vaporized in that impact, thence the melting of the tool and the lack of a corpse.
The other direction sloped downward into the darkness. The walls looked machine tooled and sturdy enough, they no longer consisted of the powdery substance of the surface and now were of solid rock, though after the shock they had taken from the impact we should be very watchful for signs of any cave in. There was really no question of whether we should go on. Yes, it could be dangerous. Yes, we may die. We were adventurers who lived dangerously. Even so, I decided to send Mr. Abadie (who gave cursory objections) back to the ship with Orlando. I would go on with Zettlein, Catto, and Berthrong.
We went deeper, and as we did the air pressure rose. The tunnel did a couple switchbacks as we descended further still. After a hike of four hours or so, I was just about to call for a return due to the fact we had brought very limited water and no food—the exploration would just have to wait for another time—when the tunnel opened up into a vast cavern. Harry gave a joyous leap and went shooting towards a pointy stalagmite. As I winced from the expected force of the collision, a large, four foot piece broke off and fell straight down with Harry. We rushed over to find Harry laughing, “I was just going to say cheese, say cheese.” He appeared to be unharmed and was holding a piece of the stalagmite up to us, which we now noticed looked an awful lot like a hunk of cheese. Before we could be cautious or discuss, Harry popped some in his mouth. “As good as a Stilton, I’d say, as good as a Stilton.”
All having a bite, it became apparent that Harry was indeed right in that, whatever this stuff was, it tasted exactly like cheese; however, there was great disagreement as to what kind and quality, which is only to be expected (I myself thought it an excellent Bleu). We also realized that the atmosphere was sufficiently thick enough to be able breathe, as Harry had surely spilt any oxygen in his cone and yet could get his breath. We soon found that there was a wide variety of cheeses within the cavern, and were having a jolly time trying different samples, when suddenly I felt like we were being watched. Before I could discover our new visitor, he announced himself, “Welcome to the Moon, good sirs.”
I turned, expecting to see Professor Cavor, as I had suspected possible. Instead I was confronted with the unlikely sight of a six foot tall insect in knickers and tweed jacket. He did look quite dashing for a six foot tall insect, but this didn’t change the fact that he was still a giant bug. Some people are frightened by bugs of the everyday normal-size variety; having now witnessed the much more horrific giant bugs of the Moon, I can safely say that clothing does, in fact, make the bug, or, in this case, the lack thereof. You see, a well attired insect holds little or none of the repulsive qualities of the naked variety. If widespread sartorial endeavors on the behalf of the insects of Earth would be ventured, the psychological benefits to humankind would be monumental. A stove top hat on a cockroach or a well shod spider makes for a welcome guest in any home. A well tailored hornet would be brilliant company for tea. What a world it could be!
We must have all been standing with mouths agape for a good number of moments, as our insect host interrupted my train of thought, “Oh dear, have I buggered it all up then? Can you understand me? Perhaps they don’t speak english...” He was looking quite upset and flustered for a giant insect, if I was able to discern such attributes in Arthropoda. Best I come to his (or was it a her?) rescue. I ventured, “Yes, yes we understand, and thank you for such a hospitable welcome. I am Herr Count Von Sensenderfer, and these are members of my crew.”
Can an insect show relief and smile? If the answer be an affirmative, then this specimen surely did, as he shuffled forward and held out an appendage, “Oh, that is a relief, my name is, Richard the Thirty-Third.” I was, of course, too much a gentleman to mention his hunchback condition, but could not help but wonder if there was an allusion to the former British monarch at play. He went on, “Professor Cavor, has been of untold help in instructing us, however he can be a bit absent minded and even, let us say, 'cranky.' Also, he is but one person and that doesn’t make for the most complete model of human interaction. Some of us have thought that he might, in fact, be mad. Oh, perhaps I shouldn’t have said that? He has given us only cursory instruction in etiquette. Come, come, I must show you to the others.”
And so it was that we met an entire species of Moon inhabitants, who lived in underground caverns. They were of many different shapes and sizes, differentiated based on specializations of which I could only guess. All the hunchbacked ones were named Richard of some numeral, whether of ranking or simple means of designation, I could not tell. There were grumpy Hooks, big headed Newtons, large tall Swifts, and various other allusions to English personages that I could not care less about. Yes, yes England has had many famous people… who have been deformed either physically or spiritually, and in many cases both.
Cavor made his appearance. He was understandably overjoyed to see members of humanity once more, and his story was quickly told, though with little in the way of details. The beginning of the tale was very similar to the one I knew H.G. Wells would write some thirty years hence: Using the invention of the substance he had named “Cavorite,” which was a form of anti-gravity, Cavor and a man named “Bedford” had travelled to the Moon where they had been captured by the “Selenites," a species of large underground insect of advanced technology. Bedford managed to escape, taking their traveling sphere, but Cavor had been left behind to uncertain fate.
“That Bedford fellow turned out to be a shallow man of very little integrity. I’m evidently a very poor judge of character. I needed his money for the trip, and I should have known that nothing good can ever come of that. From the moment we landed all he was interested in was finding gold or such plunder. When we met the Selenites, he had no interest in understanding them. Shortly he was on a killing spree. It really is a wonder the Selenites didn’t execute me after I was captured. Luckily they didn’t judge me based on my bloodthirsty companion.”
Being a man of science, I decided that I could tell Professor Cavor of my abilities and that I knew of the possibility of a future book describing his journey. I informed him that the Bedford fellow in the book I knew wasn’t seen in as ill a light and, furthermore, he makes it back to Earth alive and with a goodly amount of gold.
“Oh no, I assure you, the good for nothing dullard is dead. He never would have been able to navigate back to Earth without me. He did take off. Stole the sphere; it is gone. No, he’s asphyxiated somewhere out there.” He gestured towards the deep black of space. “With my craft, damn him to hell!”
Then he asked who will write this book, to which I replied, a man by the name of Herbert George Wells. “Well, it seems I must relay the story to this Mr. Wells and set the record straight about Bedford.”
“There is a problem with that. He wouldn’t even be out of short pants yet.”
Cavor was nonplussed. “This playing in time, gets a bit messy and confusing doesn’t it?”
“Perhaps it would be best if you wrote your version of the story down as insurance? If you don’t ever get a chance to relay the story to an older Wells, I promise to do my best to see he receives it.”
“But look here, if I’m the only one that knows the story then doesn’t it follow that I have to live to see Wells and relay the story? I mean he has to get the story from somewhere. He didn’t just make it up. Or I should say he won’t just make it up. It would be too much of a coincidence.”
I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to tell him, but before I could stop myself, “Time travel will always be paradoxical, it is the nature of the beast. There is a sense in which the facts of your existence are in the writing hand of Mr. Wells. Your trip was so extraordinary. Occurrences of such an incredible nature I have found, in my travels, to be literally authored by creators of superior talent and power. Our finding you here, the astonishing existence of a alien species on the Moon, these are not the things of normal reality. Your presence here is miraculous. A miracle created by the genius of H.G. Wells.”
“Do you mean to say that I’m a figment of Wells’ imagination? What total poppycock! I invented Cavorite! I traveled to the Moon! Me! You are insane! I’m as real as you; you liar!” He gave me a good shove. “Did you feel that, Sir! Real flesh and blood,” Cavor had crouched down into what could only be considered a “fighting” stance, arms thrust out in a decent representation of Queensberry rules.
Catto moved in between us. “Now, Gentlemen, no need for that.”
Zettlein came up beside me and whispered, “Count on you to turn the seemingly adorable, absent minded professor into a foaming-at-the-mouth mad dog," he chuckled.
I replied with a small guilty laugh and gazed at Cavor, who was still visibly mad. I felt poorly that I had done this to him, “Don’t think a thing of it, Professor, look, we are all someone’s fiction, at least our own.”
Unfortunately, this only made him more upset. “You are dangerous. With dangerous ideas. You would have us all be fictions! Get out of my sight!”
We now became aware that there was a general hissing and clacking of mandibles among the Selenites. “Seems the Queen’s english is of little interest now!” George said as the members of my party circled back to back, suddenly aware of our small number in contrast to the vast horde of insects, who, while well attired, no longer seemed gentlemanly. The front ranks began to inch forward.
“Everyone halt,” Cavor yelled. “I am a man of science and I won’t have any bloodshed. I tell you to leave. You are no longer our guests here. Please do not return, for I won’t be responsible for your safe conduct.”
“It hardly has to come to this,” I said.
“Yes it has: Leave.” He replied resolutely.
The Selenites slowly parted towards the exit and we cautiously made our escape back to the tunnels.
“The guy is stuck on the Moon, underground with a bunch of huge bugs, for over a decade, in all likelihood barely able to hold onto his sanity, and you come along and tell him he isn’t real? What were you thinking?” George complained.
“I wasn’t, or rather I was thinking too much, but not about his situation,” I replied. “Clearly, I made a mistake.”
“Yes, you did. So tell me, are we real or can I just be written out of this story now?”
“Do you really want an answer to that?”
“No. No, I don’t, on second thought, let’s just get back to the ship.”
So ended our encounter with Professor Cavor. I had now committed to rescuing the Americans.
Francois lay “swimming," eyes closed in concentration, stretched out on a table setup on the bridge of the Hasenpfeffer. He was, of course, wearing his striped swimming suit and looked, I think it fair to say, rather absurd, stroking along to an inner vision through the aether. We changed course to match his heading and so hoped to be moving closer to the Americans. Eventually we caught sight of the space shell, embedded at the base of a crater wall, but I let none disturb the entranced Mr. Abadie, loudly puffing his way to the rescue… he was having such a jolly time of it!
On arrival, we sadly found that one of the three crew members of the shell was dead. It seemed that Mr. Barbicane, in his excitement over landing on the Moon, had, like any red-blooded American, celebrated by shooting from his six shooter arsenal, repeatedly and often, into the Moon sky, to a chorus of exclamations such as “Yee haw!” However, like so many, it appears he was under the misconception that the sky, like the ocean, is a dumping ground from which nothing returns. Sadly, we doubt that he actually had time to learn his folly, as objects usually return close to the same speed they left in absence of a thick atmosphere.
The swimsuit clad Mr. Abadie would seem to have had unrealistic expectations of his first meeting with Lilly von Windenhammer. I, as you know, am a romantic, but even I know that assumptions of a destiny together, or even the more presumptuous “love at first sight,” are a contrivance for disappointment, and worse yet, for the subject of said assumptions, an annoyance. Perhaps people will talk? Surely she was “leading him on” through the aether, or some such. I, for one, certainly didn’t fall for any of that blither blather. She was a good girl, she was. In short, it was all in the mind of Mr. Abadie. He glided briskly with open arms, I imagine to an internal thundering of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet, only to slowly flag to her obvious miscomprehension, and collapse to the Moon surface. I decided to leave him there for awhile, he was in his natural element horizontally, and allow him to gather his composure. But then a strange thing happened: Lilly, taking pity on the poor soul, went over to him and, removing her helmet, placed a kiss upon the crown of his head. Mr. Abadie turned into a frog! Which, of course, is such absurdity; has he no thought to proper decorum?
The other Frenchman, this one of the American crew, seemed a bore to me, especially seeing how our Frenchman was an aether swimming amphibian of both two and four legged forms. Exuding bonhomie with a bon vivant flare, no doubt only to satisfy his own immense ego; I saw through him right away. Frankly, two sentences out of his mouth and I had him pegged (as they say). He was so terribly uninteresting in comparison to our Mr. Abadie that I could not bear to subject us to him. “Lock him in the aft hold, clearly he is a spy!” I said.
Now he most definitely was not a spy. I just didn’t want to listen to him, or see him. I don’t know what it is exactly, but sometimes I take an immediate dislike to someone. It isn’t fair, and usually there is absolutely nothing wrong with them, beyond the fact I do not like them. But isn’t that enough? I have decided it is.
My crew, with some minor looks between them, having obeyed and taken the poor shocked man away, I presented myself to Lilly. She protested my abuse of her crew mate, but I used the “I know stuff you don’t know” gambit backed by the “that information is a state secret” trump to silence any argument. To her credit, she appeared to be an upstanding individual, with an active mind, and moreover, she evidenced a toughness, tempered by an attractive panache. She was also a bit of a hottie, as they say. Anyway, I liked her.
So with the American forces now in tow, by this I mean Lilly, and Mr. Abadie stowed in a terrarium, hopefully out of sight of Mr. Seiji, we were now ready to begin the assault on the Prussian Moon base. One could ask why we didn’t just cut the cable at some point along its length. There were at least two reasons: 1) We didn’t know if we could actually cut this incredibly strong cable with the equipment in our possession. 2) I didn’t want the Moon to be trailing a chain; what an unseemly mess. No the weak point would be the anchor point, especially since they couldn’t have had time to fully implement all their plans for its attachment. A large enough explosion at this time should be enough to detach the cable.
We discussed various options. Flying in on the Hasenpfeffer was sure to meet the most resistance since that was the most probable line of approach. A heavily damaged craft was a sure way to leave us stranded, even if we succeeded. Overland was the other choice, and with the lesser gravity, we should be able to approach more quickly. However, the Moon afforded little in the way of camouflage or cover for an approach, so it would probably have to be in the open.
The best way, and we all knew it, would be an underground approach through the tunnels created by the Selenites. Knowing that my mistakes had led to the present impasse with them and Professor Cavor was to my chagrin. In order to rectify the situation, I thought that I could surely reason with Cavor, especially if he had calmed after his initial shock at my revelations.
“I’m going back to speak with Cavor!” I announced.
“The man wants to kill you. Don’t do it,” George said.
“It is the best way and the situation is my fault. I will go and correct my mistake. I want all of you to stay at a safe distance. I’ll come and get you once I have convinced Cavor that we must join forces in order to defeat the Prussians. Surely he will see the logic of combining our resources.”
This train of thought is how I found myself sitting in a pot of slowly warming water over a fair size fire; thus far I was only mildly steeped. The boiling had not yet begun.
The setting of the fire had been a large production. There was no firewood on the Moon, but they did have some form of dried vegetable matter, that I assume was actually normally used for consumption, but was now being drafted by necessity as fuel for the fire. Fires simply aren’t frequently set on the Moon, due to the low oxygen. Cavor’s overheated brain had evidently read too much adventure fiction, for if there is one thing we know that the natives do it’s fire up a large pot (these primitives must mail order their metal goods) and then eat you (though it must be admitted that seldom do the protagonists actually get eaten). Oh, and dancing. Much dancing. Or what passes as dancing, since the writers of such events seldom know what native dances look like; and such is the case now, for I, even though witness to the genuine article, wouldn’t know how to describe the dance that was taking place all around me as giant insects wearing knickers kicked up the Moon dust. If I wasn’t wondering how I’d taste it might have been amusing to watch Cavor pantomime his “native” dance for the Selenites. Some had taken to it quite well, moving with far more grace than their instructor.
“Is that imaginary fire getting warm yet?” Cavor had been hectoring me for awhile now and I had given up on reasoning with him. He was clearly insane.
“I will write the name of ‘Cavor’ across the galaxy. None shall deny me. What! You think these German dogs are anything? Do you believe you brought me news? We have known about them for a good time now. I don’t need your help to handle them. I have tunnels ready to be breached right under their pointy helmets. Driving them off Luna will be exceedingly easy.”
I wondered at the chances my friends would disobey me and come to my rescue; I felt there was a solid chance that would happen... however, it would be embarrassing. I felt my breath come with more difficulty. Whether from the shame or the fact I was beginning to parboil, I wasn’t yet sure, but then I saw a dancer trip. And then another. The fire was burning up all the oxygen in the chamber! I took a deep breath and went into a trance as I had learned in Tibet from a guy named “Larry." Through half closed eyes I watched as all the insects and Cavor collapsed to the floor. I thought I heard Cavor say something like, “For Hate’s sake, I spite my last breath at thee.” Or perhaps I was projecting something I had read onto his lips. I thought this was quite good and made note to use it in the future. However, I must say, I was a bit hurt by it. What had I done to deserve this? I didn’t think the mere giving of knowledge deserved such hate.
Time passed and I became aware that the water had begun to cool. The area was still filled with passed out, now probably dead, Selenites, plus Cavor. With the fire out, surely the oxygen had begun to return to the chamber. I exhaled and took a test breath, feeling light headed but fair enough all in all. My crew arrived at about this time.
“So you did need rescuing, not a great idea was it?” asked George.
I looked slightly confused. “Oh, things went very well. Not as I had planned, but well enough. Turns out fires on the Moon aren’t conducive to a well functioning respiratory system. Sadly, I fear many Selenites, and Cavor, are dead, or at least indisposed for the duration.”
Catto looked dumbfounded, “You’re in a pot of boiling water.”
“Oh that? The water was never ‘boiling,' perhaps one would say ‘very hot,' but ‘boiling,' no.”
George had an ugly look on his face, what could only be called a smirk, of which I have warned him, its unpleasant nature only a fit countenance for scoundrels, “So you weren’t being cooked?"
“Good gracious, no. Wherever do you get such thoughts? I have warned you against tall tales. No, I was merely taking a bath. This Moon dust gets in everything, doesn’t it?” I stepped out of the pot sloshing a good amount of water onto the floor.
“You were taking a bath fully dressed?” asked Orlando.
“Don’t be silly, Orlando. Do you expect me to put on dirty clothes after taking a bath. I think not. But enough about my toilet. I have learned there are tunnels to the Prussian site already dug. So, we luckily don’t need Professor Cavor and can get underway. We should hurry along, more Selenites are no doubt around.”
“Shouldn’t we check whether these fellows are dead?” Harry asked.
“I think we should leave it up to fate.”
As we took our lightly gliding steps away, the squish squish sound of my boots made me comment, “If I made one mistake, it was not taking off my boots.”
We made our way through the tunnels bearing towards the Prussian base. We soon came upon a tunnel that ran straight in their direction, obviously having been dug specifically to gain access to the site. Having not seen any active Selenites since the lack of oxygen had put an unceremonious end to the festive dance around my stewing pot, our guard was down when we came abruptly to the end of the tunnel and found a Selenite perched on some sort of stool, gazing out a small peep hole at what could only be assumed was the enemy operations. Having heard us he turned and said, “Oh, joy!” We hadn't been expecting a pleasant welcome. “Take me with you! I so hate this place, and did you know I’m the 5006th William Penn of my brood! Can you imagine? All the same. All dressed alike. All worshipping Cavor as if he were a god. Please! Please! Please!”
I wasn’t one to look a gift bug in the mouth, “Yes, if you take us to the best site to get at the cable. And pledge to listen to my commands as long as we are on this journey.”
“I so pledge. Now follow me this way.” 5006 replied.
Meanwhile in Russia: Titular councillor Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin, (Golly to his friends) found himself friendless, and in the process of being bodily thrown out of the office. The shouts, denouncements, and charges which rained down on the sweaty, fevered head of the titular councillor were beyond his understanding. He had been pulled from his seat and was being propelled out the office door. His overcoat gave him some protection against the shoves and pushes of his here-to-fore docile officemates. As they came to the landing of the second floor he lost his footing and careened down the steps. Only a few seconds rest, in a pile at the bottom of the steps, and his persecutors were already upon him. He noticed that, in addition to the fever, he now had suffered a good bump on the head. Golly Jr. sneered in his face, pulling him to his feet. With a final shove the office crowd threw the beleaguered councillor out to the street. Collapsed on the sidewalk, time may have passed, or perhaps it was only a second, until he became aware of a familiar figure hovering, with apparent concern, over his prostrate form. Two large black voids looked down on him. It was Nose!
“Please sir, in my present condition, your breathing is heavy upon me. A step back, would you?” Nose obliged and helped Golyadkin to his feet.
“There’s a good fellow, you look like you need a drink?” Nose inquired in a friendly way. Golyadkin felt some relief as Nose offered a shoulder to lean on; the two made their way down the street beside the slowly flowing Neva. Perhaps it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We now leave these two as they stagger into a suddenly foggy Russia.
The Prussians were industriously working in the chamber beyond the spy hole. Excavating horizontally as well as vertically to more securely anchor their cable. Even in the thin air of the Moon there was a loud cacophony of sound produced by their various equipment. It quickly became apparent that the low atmospheric pressure was playing great havoc with their efforts, as their crews had to wear bulky space suits and periodic breaks were needed as the engines would sputter out due to lack of oxygen. We too felt light headed in our hidden passageway when the machines drained the oxygen too low in the outer chamber, but the peep hole was small and therefore the loss of atmosphere as well. Further, the level of sound varied from the density of the atmospheric pressure; it made for a fascinating experience, one which I’m afraid I would have contemplated for too long if not for Harry’s interjection of “Time to blow the hell out of it!”
George replied, “Harry, I was just gonna say that.”
We waited for a period when the machines had just been restarted, both for the cover of their noise and the fact that running out into a low oxygen environment without a space suit would have made for a very foolish and anti-climactic attack. As it was there was little excitement, for the Prussian crews never saw us coming, what with the noise and the limited view from their helmets. We used knives and swords, dispatching them all with short work. It was an unfair bloody business. We left the machines running so as not to draw attention. We had observed one shift change and, unless a supervisor or such paid a visit, we knew there was adequate time to set the explosives. At this moment the reader would not be remiss to yell, “Watch out, Count! Behind you!” It would be best if I gave you a moment to do it, but please do. For time is very limited.
A moment, your cue.
Two things happened at once, in the same time and space, that were highly unlikely. One: A writer wrote in one time and space, asking his readers to warn himself from a past time and space, which they did, managing to send a warning which arrived from many different locations just in the nick of time so that the Count turned to see the pointy helmet of a German grenadier, who had been lurking behind some equipment, about to impale him through the middle. This overly ambitious Prussian had hidden himself among the equipment when we attacked and had chosen this very moment to launch his surprise. Two: After thousands of Union Jacks launched, the British empire finally had the mathematically certain event of a flagstaff about to land on the Moon, but instead it impaled the forward thrusting grenadier, who was now never to land his fatal blow, and was instead made property of the British Crown. I saluted the latest Anglo entanglement, which had saved my life.
Now the observant reader will note that his or her warning was totally unnecessary: The flagstaff saved me irregardless of my turning around. What can I say? I didn’t entirely trust you. I assure you the problem isn’t me, it is you. And besides, I wanted to see this one in a billion chance meeting on the Moon.
Harry and Dellschau supervised us to efficiently place the explosives. At one point the air became too thin and we had to fall back to the tunnel and let the machines putter out. After a time we returned and restarted them for covering noise as we continued to set the bomb. The question became how long to set the fuse. Too short and we wouldn’t get far enough away; too long and someone might chance upon it and put it out.
Harry cut it to a good length. George said, “Are we not men?” and cut it shorter. Lilly said, “There is a lady present, and she is resolute,” and cut shorter. I said “The atmosphere is light, so the shockwave will be that much less,” and shorter. Catto said, “we are all going to die.”
“Go, get a head start, I’ll give you two extra minutes before I light it,” I waved them on. I turned off all the engines, not wanting the oxygen to run out at this critical moment, and gazed over our work, making sure everything was set. Looking up, I saw my crew was approaching the entrance to the tunnel. One minute. I heard faint german voices above. Best to go ahead and light the fuse. Within seconds it became apparent that the fuse was burning much too slowly. Damn, we hadn’t figured on the differing conditions on the burn rate of the fuse! There was nothing for heaven nor hell to do; I cut the fuse to a nub and lit it. Looking up, I caught the eye of an advancing Prussian officer, around 50 feet away. I grabbed a helmet from a nearby body and the small emergency oxygen tank beside it. The officer shouted something, and his jaw dropped open as he saw the lit fuse and the pile of explosives.
Now at this moment, mere seconds before the blast, you will be forgiven for believing my options were none and, therefore, my chances of survival nil. Forgive me, but you just aren’t thinking of all the possibilities. A simple piece of metal between me and the blast, if angled correctly, so as to hurl me directly down the tunnel from which we had arrived, could have worked. But surely if the force of the blast was strong enough to break this supposedly unbreakable cable then how would a piece of metal with me behind it survive? The simple answer is that the force would be used in the act of throwing me and the piece of metal quite a far distance, as long as I didn’t hit any solid objects along the way I should be fine. The cable had no slack, being anchored at the Earth and the Moon, therefore all the force would be charged into it, without any dissipation. Surely like a blow from Thor’s Hammer. You might wonder why I even needed the sheet of metal? Now you are just being silly: Explosive fire would burn my clothes. Alas, there were no pieces of sheet metal within reach.
Another choice was an old standby with persons in my line of work: Archimedes’ lever. Or, in layman’s terms, a seesaw. All I needed was a large mass dropping on the, hopefully shorter, raised side of a plank positioned on a fulcrum. I had spotted just such a mass, in the form of a machine that was hanging well above in reserve, and, further, it was in a nice position near a fulcrum point and plank. Shooting out the ropes while standing on the properly positioned plank would have been easy for an excellent shot such as myself. I would then have flown up and out of the dig site, ahead of the blast. Having to adjust for the higher kickback of discharging a gun in low gravity would be another second or two. So you say, get to it, Count.
I notice there isn’t even a nub left on the fuse; I’m afraid I have spent too much time discussing the possible solutions, so I’ll just have to jump. Of course, my timing will have to be of absolute perfection. Jumping in order to reach maximum velocity just as the shockwave of the explosive blast hits me. I would have to further center myself in the epicenter directly beneath the opening to the surface many feet above. I hopped on to the highest center explosive and gauged the fuse. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Prussian striding quickly towards me; I almost felt sorry for the bastard but then thought better of it. I jumped. Right on time, as I was hit by a tremendous force that I never had a chance to hear as my eardrums burst. I wondered whether that was my leg flying past my helmet view. I recognized my Fluevogs. They were the best boots I had ever worn. What a disappointment, losing one. What good was one boot? This adventure was turning out to be a difficult one.
Luckily for me, the blast cauterized the stump of my leg and I didn’t die from loss of blood. My other leg must have been straighter when the shockwave hit my body because my Fluevog protected it nicely. The loss of my leg had sent me spinning as I flew up into the lunar sky. It wasn’t a very rapid spin, and during an early rotation I spied blasts of debris popping in plumes away from the site, through the lunar surface. On my next rotation I saw that some of the debris flying up from the closest blowhole was my crew. I could see what I thought was movement, so I hoped they lived.
Before even the moon dust had settled, we knew our bomb had failed because the cable still arose from the site without change. I was slowly falling back down to the Moon surface; I didn’t believe that my flight would be long enough to pick up deadly speed. At this point, I must say, that I felt a little down, having lost a good boot, and a leg, for apparently nothing.
Landing, I rolled to my foot and found that one-legged hopping was quite practical on the Moon; in fact, walking was rather daft in the low gravity; two legs seemed a waste. This rather cheered me up.
I hopped towards the cable site to assess the situation. I could see the Hasenpfeffer approach in the distance. The crew must have decided to help any survivors now that any defenses were blown away. I wasn’t worried about any Prussian interference, at least for some hours, given that it would have to come from along the cable. As for the rest of my crew, while I was concerned, striking out blindly on foot didn’t seem the best idea. I figured all that were well would head this way or towards the Hasenpfeffer, and once we got together we could use the ship to search for any missing.
As I approached through the settling dust, I could smell gunpowder and a strong whiff of cheese. Which wasn’t too surprising since most of the planet was made of the stuff. And therefore I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to find the cable site a bubbling cauldron of cheese fondue.
It smelt and looked great and I was suddenly very hungry. I worked my way down to the edge of the cheese and thought to dip a hand in for a taste when Seiji appeared next to me pulling some baguettes in a paper bag with his teeth.
Boy, was I happy to see him. We sat at the very edge of the giant fondue pot. I dipped the bread into the cheese. “Stupendous! I don’t even believe I’m unduly influenced by the fact I haven’t eaten in over 18 hours. Here let me get some for you.”
“I will forego the bread,” he replied. Luckily Seiji and I spoke telepathically, since my hearing was still gone. I will translate his communication into normal speech. I scooped, with the bread, some cheese onto the center of the paper bag which I had laid flat, for I knew that Seiji would love the sound of crinkling paper as he lapped at the cheese.
We sat enjoying our picnic and musing over all that had gone wrong since coming to the Moon. “First the problems with Cavor, and now this damn cable. This adventure has taken a dark turn. I suppose the best always do. I wanted to be the first to step on the Moon, not leave a foot on it. My condition doesn’t bode well for the Exemplar baseball club's upcoming season. Eardrums usually heal, my leg won’t.”
“I have lost my share of limbs, and tails,” Seiji said.
“Unless my eyesight is also damaged, you seem to have all four.”
“In the aether between worlds I recreate myself. And I have nine lives, as everyone knows.”
It was strange for Seiji to speak of his unusual abilities. Hoping for a bit more I replied, “I won’t pretend to understand.” However, my gambit failed as he seemed content with a buddha-like staring into the cauldron of cheese.
“When this cheese cools and solidifies the cable will be more secure than before. What a failure.”
I sighed and dipped another piece of bread. “It would be nice to have some wine.”
“Yes, and we do have quite a bit back at the ship,” Seiji replied.
“I dare say if you drank that particular wine with this cheese, you’d make a royal mess of yourself,” I laughed.
“Or of a cable,” he said.
I looked at him, thinking it through: If I poured our reserve tank of wine in here the sides of the cauldron would contain the gas. The acidic action would work on the cable. Would it be concentrated enough? It would spread to fill this whole area. If it did work, it would be very slow at those concentrations, months perhaps. I don’t really know. By that time the Prussians will be back and would figure someway to clear the gas. I don’t think it would work. How could we contain the gas?
“I will be with you when you die,” Seiji said.
“What in the world are you talking about? Do you mean soon? I’m not as special as you, but I’m not exactly easy to kill. And of course when I’m on my deathbed you will be there.”
But he said nothing more.
It dawned on me that I was supposed to do something incredibly dangerous, that would be the only reason Seiji would even brooch such a subject. Given the location, and the talk of wine and cheese, it was a matter of putting two and two together. If the wine was released from deep in the cheese, its weight would contain the gas, thereby heavily concentrating it, perhaps even leading to explosive pressure; either way, this had to be our best chance of destroying that damn cable. The trouble was that we had no way of releasing the liquid except by hand. No fuse would stay lit in that cheese and rigging some mechanical device was, given the time constraints, beyond me. I was going down with the barrel, so to speak.
There was little time to waste. The Hasenpfeffer had landed nearby and I made my way to her. Seiji followed at his own pace, and several times disappeared. On arrival at the ship they were very relieved to find me alive, though the loss of my leg was shocking to them. I explained that I was completely fine, the Moon on one leg was a delight. I got them busy searching for survivors, including Prussians. Meanwhile I procured a fresh space suit with an enclosed helmet and a bottle of air. I jammed a compass into a space right below the viewport of the helmet (there was actually a good deal of room), which I could see and would allow me to know the direction of the cable. The reserve tank of wine would normally be too much for one man to maneuver, but at a sixth of the gravity it proved to be of little difficulty.
At the edge of the caldera of cheese, I must say I had my doubts. I had no plan as to how I would get back out. Of course, this was nothing new for me. Perhaps I could find the side tunnel of the Selenites? Yes, that seemed like a good idea.
Sinking in the cheese was fairly easy after hopping in, mostly I let gravity pull the barrel and me down. Seiji had been on the shore as my vision slipped beneath the cheese. He looked calm enough, which made me feel a little better. The drifting descent was boring, if anything. On reaching the bottom I quickly realized that while having two legs on the surface of the Moon might be a hinderance, when moving through a dense fluid it would have been for the best. Hands and knee, the barrel pushed in front of me: It was slow going. Finally the barrel hit against something in front that proved to be my target. I had entered the cauldron with the barrel upside down so that when the lid was unscrewed the wine would release downward and the reaction would commence, pushing the barrel upwards and thereby releasing more wine. I couldn't stay around to see if it was working as any gas on my suit would prove deadly. Backing away as quickly as I could, I eventually hit against a sidewall. Now to just work my way to the Selenite tunnel. I decided to take a short rest as my breath was coming harder. I went to open the valve on the air canister all the way, only to find that it already was. I leaned back against the wall for a short rest. The wine must be reacting, as I could feel a flow pushing against me. I think I lost track of time. I was glad that damn cat wasn’t here. Then suddenly he was, jammed into my space suit with his head in my helmet; it was a little tight.
“I’m not happy to see you this time, and your breath stinks,” I croaked.
He just stared into my eyes with his green ones. At some point I realized that my heart had stopped sometime ago.
Hello, I am Lilly von Windenhammer. As you know I was rescued, by the intrepid crew of the Hasenpfeffer, from abandonment and death on the surface of the Moon, or perhaps my companions and I would have been found by the Selenites and the mad Professor Cavor; either way, I owe the crew of the Hasenpfeffer my life and they have my eternal gratitude.
Sadly, it has fallen to me to finish this story. No one knows exactly what happened to Count Sensenderfer. The last time he was seen was by various crew members of the Hasenpfeffer, after the explosion of the bomb. Everyone was too busy attempting to find and save survivors and, further, they weren’t in the habit of questioning the Count’s actions. It was only with everyone back on the ship that questions began to be asked about his whereabouts. It was about this time that Moonquakes began to violently shake the Hasenpfeffer and it was decided takeoff was necessary to avoid damage. Thus it was that we had an ideal vantage point to witness the breaking of the chain that tied two worlds together. With a visible lurch, the Moon pulled away from its captor. Our celebration was cut short when we saw the chain recoiling towards Earth. The amount of damage this huge chain of immense length would have wrought on the planet as it wrapped itself around the globe would be beyond imagination.
Thankfully, the nations of the world had taken action during our absence to cut the chain from the Earth side. As it was, they managed the feat only twelve hours after the events on the Moon, as the culmination of the first stratospheric battle between nations. Many miles above the Earth, the Prussians had stationed the Odin, a giant battle platform, that maintained its altitude through the use of very large gas bags; it was first used as a mobile anchor point for the chain, later as a relay point along its line to Earth. This was the point the other nations, concerned with the potential disaster, chose to attack in their attempt to break the chain. The plan wasn’t to bring the Odin to the ground but rather to use it as the platform for cutting the chain, thus complicating the attack and requiring them to board and capture the ship. The confrontation that ensued encompassed numerous battle balloons and airships, as many as a hundred from each of the various nations. The technology the world’s nations possess in order to fly, let alone fight, at such an altitude is in it’s infancy, as such the battle was as much against nature as man. After hours of combat, and the loss of many ships and lives, the Odin was finally boarded and the struggle continued on her blood splattered decks, the combatants fought hand-to-hand until the Odin was captured. Victory! The complete story of this tremendous victory, we hope, will come out in full in the years to come. However, at this point, it isn’t clear whether it will, as all the nations involved appear to be unwilling to openly and freely discuss the entire matter. Everyone knows of the attempts on the Moon, and of the giant Prussian cable, and of the battle of the stratosphere, but no one officially wants to talk about it. Everyone is guilty of some greed in this matter, and no one wants to incite war by putting the blame on anyone else, especially now the prize has proven to be out of reach.
After the cable was cut on the Earth side, the momentum of the cable from its break on the Moon carried it to a point in the wake of the orbit of the Earth, hopefully to never be seen again. Thus, both worlds were spared collision with this colossal man-made folly.
Thankfully, war was never openly declared between the world’s great powers and the war we all feared only took place in the skies. How close we came to total war is unknown, but no nation moved to general mobilization, which would have commenced the descent into war’s embrace. Rather, the nations seem to have treated this affair as a colonial spat over the resources and glory of the Moon. Since, in the end, no country’s technology was of the requisite advancement (except of course Freedonia) to safely journey to the Moon and exploit it without endangering the Earth, the competition came to an end after the Battle of the Stratosphere. Prussia, without openly admitting its guilt, came to its senses about the extreme danger of their endeavor and ceased their attempts at lassoing the Moon. The other nations were willing to let the act go unpunished beyond the large losses the Prussians took in the battle on the surface of the Moon, not to mention the soldiers that may be floating through space, still riding the chain, down to their last bit of air. The price of a world at war was just too great a risk, and so peace returned to our planet.
While it is possible that the breaking of the chain after the disappearance of Count Sensenderfer was a delayed reaction to the bomb we had put off earlier, every one of the crew seems convinced that he performed some heroic act to bring about our victory. The discovery of the missing reserve tank of wine sealed the argument for most. What exactly he did, and what happened to him, is debatable. The fact that the remarkable feline, Seiji, has also disappeared only deepens the mystery. We searched the area for many hours, but eventually had to leave for Earth in order to get medical attention to the many injured. George, Catto, Harry, and William Penn 5006 have vowed to go back to the Moon. They can’t believe he is dead and wonder if perhaps he has been captured by the Selenites. Whether they will have a chance at this return journey is unknown, since the Hasenpfeffer may not be in their control.
Postscript: Regarding the unhappy transformation that Mr. Abadie endured on the Moon, it was found that the application of a flower reverses the process. This was discovered on his return to Paris, where, upon disembarking from a passenger airship before a vast and cheering crowd, he was viciously hit by a flower, thrown indubitably by an admiring lady, whereupon Mr. Abadie was transformed from a frog to a naked man sprawled, unconscious, surely from the shock, in front of the horrified crowd. In the ensuing stampede from his unclothed person, hands were stepped on, feet were mangled, however, thankfully, no razor blades were swallowed. And so ends this adventure to the Moon.