Authors: Jim Beard,Duane Spurlock
Tags: #Fiction: Action and Adventure
JIM BEARD & DUANE SPURLOCK
by Jim Beard & Duane Spurlock
Copyright © 2015 by Jim Beard and Duane Spurlock. All rights reserved.
Cover art and frontispiece copyright © 2015 by M. S. Corley. All rights reserved.
This ebook edition of
is published by Meteor House.
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Meteor House • 2015
Dedicated to The Little Woman, the enticing Mystery
I hope never to completely solve. —Jim Beard
With love to my sons, who—since the bedtimes I read
—have a great enjoyment for mystery and adventure. —Duane Spurlock
Meteor House and the authors would like to thank the following readers who preordered this limited edition novel and helped it take flight:
Stephanie Wagner, Anthony R. Cardno, Art Sippo, Michael R. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Steven Smith, Georgina Eloise Spiteri, Madeleine Lucy Spiteri, Claire Spiteri, Shawn Vogt, Paul Niedernhofer, Thomas Potter, Anthony Kapolka, Scott Gibson, Katherine Stites, Derek Cockerham, Elizabeth Cseri, Laurie Wolberton, Katherine Shaw, David Rains, Chuck Welch, Kim & Scott Turk, Max Mathis, Mark Martinez, Theodore Gregory, Ralph Grasso, Lucas Garrett, Robert Deis, Cathy Keibler, Alexander Grant, Mike Hunter, Scott Selle, Terry Krieger, Eric Timm, Blue Derkin, J. Scott Radel, Bertha Hunt, Bill Kirschbaum, Logan County Public Library, Dan Silvers, Ben Schellhase, Elizabeth Silvers, Ronald Weston, Russell Wright, Charles Millhouse, Larry “Chile Pepper” Brown, John Del Col, Julie Moore, Lige B. Rushing III, Lisa Eckert, Patricia Wildman, James Caliban, M.D., John Bruening, Mike Chomko, Herbert Jacobi, PulpFest, Don Youel, Edward Stuart, Lynn Carter, Raymond Navor, Kathleen Honigford, Aries Ropp, Joanie Asendorf, Donna Legree Rohlff, Jennifer Collins, Rick Lai, Harold Pickard, Enrico Barisione, Terry Chio, Steven Hager, Ken Kessler, Rodney Rhodus, the JoeErin Mathias Family, Trent Spurlock, Elie Harriet, Martha Spurlock, Robert Craig, and Ralph Carlson.
Additionally, Jim Beard would like to thank Duane Spurlock, who believed in him and the concept and helped flesh it out into something far beyond its humble initial thoughts. Duane Spurlock would like to thank Jim Beard, for trusting in him enough to share the world of the Aero-Marshals. Together they would both like to thank M. S. Corley for his wonderful skills in translating their prose descriptions into a delightful cover illustration, and the entire Meteor House crew: Christopher Paul Carey, Michael Croteau, Win Scott Eckert, Keith Howell, Ray Riethmeier, and Paul Spiteri, who made everything better.
Major Wellington gave the officer who sat in front of his desk a pointed look, one that spoke of some slight annoyance at the question.
“Yes. Coined by a newspaper writer. Seems to have stuck.”
Lieutenant Michael Valiantine looked down at the dress hat he held in his hands and back up at the major. He said nothing, unsure of what he could
say about it all.
“This,” Wellington said, tapping a file that lay on his desk, “says you’ve been prone to speak your mind at times. Well, speak it, man.”
Valiantine had been away from the service almost a full year and everything around him seemed odd. Nothing looked familiar, though he couldn’t see how that much could have changed in a relatively short span of time to afford him such disquiet. The major in particular came off as a different sort of man, though he hadn’t been Valiantine’s direct superior before the lieutenant had been wounded and ordered to convalesce for an “indeterminate period” after his release from the Army hospital. Wellington’s office looked rearranged, a status that nudged the lieutenant into the uncomfortable position of desiring nothing more than to march around and set it back to right.
Instead, Valiantine reached up and opened another file the major had set at the edge of his desk for him to peruse. Inside it lay several sheets of paper, all of them choked with reports of “airships.”
“I’ll go over it again, Valiantine. They tell me you’re fit for duty, so I expect you to listen and get a firm handle on the situation.”
Wellington leaned forward in his chair, took a cheroot from a wooden box, and lit it from an ornate lighter he was using as a paperweight. Valiantine hadn’t known the man to smoke before.
“First sighted in California last year,” the major said around puffs on the stick. “Several reports in the local papers. Big things, some of them moving at a rapid pace, others just floating there, in mid-air.”
The man paused. Valiantine wondered if his own reactions were being gauged by Wellington. He felt suddenly very self-conscious of his new moustache and his over regulation-length hair, both grown during his off-time.
“Unlike anything anybody’d ever seen before,” the major continued. “And able to move at a speed that staggered the imagination. And no two of these things described alike in their physical make-up.
“Then, they started moving eastward.”
Valiantine turned one report over to glance at the next. He spied the word “Nebraska” there.
“Seem to be following rail lines,” the major said, puffing away. “Or at least that’s what some genius somewhere deduced. Can’t nod to the validity of that. Anyway, these airships started appearing over Wyoming, Nebraska... Illinois. Latest reports were only just last month, right up to the Illinois-Indiana line. Then, nothing.”
The lieutenant looked up at Wellington. “Flocks of birds? Eagles?”
“No, absolutely not.”
“At night? Look at the damn reports, Valiantine.”
“Then, if there’s anything to this, someone’s made some advances, certainly.”
The major appraised him with half-open eyes. “Yes. But who? And how?”
Valiantine’s head swam. He hadn’t expected to return to anything like this. In the service since he was eighteen, he’d been on “detached special duty” for almost ten years, operating out of the War Department building in Washington, D.C. and going where he was needed, doing what he was ordered to do. During his convalescence at Virginia Beach, on the ocean, something substantial had occurred. He’d met a woman and began to question thoughts of returning to active duty.
The woman. No, that was unfair. She was Eileen, but Valiantine had joked with her that no name could ever do her pretty features justice. She in turn quoted Shakespeare, telling him there was “no thought of pleasing him when she was christened.” From that moment on he was decidedly smitten with the woman, yet their flirtation did not exactly extend to love though, and thoughts of his career began to weigh heavily upon him. Finally, he had made his decision.
Eileen had failed to comprehend his instinctual desire to return to the service; truth be told, he didn’t fully understand it himself. Despite the rare happiness he’d experienced with her, something pulled him back, an intangible compulsion that ultimately drove a wedge between him and a woman with whom he thought he might be able to spend the rest of his life. Instead, he returned, unsure of what exactly he thought he was doing and why.
Valiantine had been wounded when a cannon had exploded near him on a test range in New York, pitting one whole side of him with shrapnel. The doctors said he’d been lucky not to have taken any to the head, but deep inside he felt as if he had. His once-clear thoughts were no longer as sharp as before his accident; though his body had healed, the lieutenant doubted he was entirely rested. He often awoke to the sound of the exploding cannon ringing in his brain.
On his first day back on duty, he was called in to Major Wellington’s office, a man he never much liked, and told what on the surface seemed to be a fairy story.
“Lilenthal made a glider six years ago,” the major grumbled. “Maxim got close a few years later, and then that disaster in Massachusetts last year. But the latest leap was a ‘bi-plane’ experiment in Indiana, also just last year. Went south, as was expected.”
“Indiana? And you say these airships were last seen approaching Indiana? Could there be something to that?”
Wellington speared the lieutenant with a look. “That’s what we want
to find out.”
“Sir,” Valiantine replied, “why not just send a few troops in to check things over?”
“Done that,” the major said, stabbing out his barely smoked cigar in a glass ashtray with a spark of annoyance. It was all the lieutenant could do not to wipe away some of the ash that had fallen outside the dish. Valiantine wanted to bite his own hand to still it from reaching out.
“Caused too much of a stir,” Wellington continued, “and so we realized we couldn’t operate out in the open and hope to learn anything useful. That’s where you come in, Valiantine. You’re going in, but in mufti.”
It was almost as if a series of steel gratings had popped up around the lieutenant, feeling trapped as he did just then. It made his insides squirm.
“With all due respect, sir, I don’t feel I’m the right man for this.”
“And yet,” Wellington said with clear annoyance, stabbing one finger down upon the officer’s file again, “
says your experience with covert work is rather extensive. Ireland in ’86, Samoa in ’88, South Dakota in ’90, Wyoming in ’92, and then of course, Nicaragua last year, before you were wounded. Should I go on, Lieutenant?”