Slide on the Run by Mick Farren - Episode VI - A Walk In Albert Park


Illustration courtesy of Jeanette (Moxie Graphix©).

 

 
 
Slide On The Run

Story so far:

Having deserted from the Battle of the Fifteen Armies, and with the backstory fast distorting around him, Yancey Slide, Idimmu Demon of the Tenth Continuum, arrives on ancient Mars via Doc Zen's Carter Machine, only to discover that a coterie of extraordinarily perverse neo-Victorians have established a faux-British Raj on the Red Planet.

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Episode Six- An Encounter In Albert Park   

Slide walked slowly along a bridle path, through the leafy fabrications of the park, away from the lights of the Establishment of Rosa Coote, sauntering somewhat, taking his time, but still watching his surroundings with some caution. Every now and again, pony girls would clatter by with ardently embracing lovers riding behind them, and he also had stepped prudently aside when an aloof company Red Martian lancers rode ponderously past, harness jingling, sabers rattling, the plumes on the their turbans bobbing, and their thoats snorting at being held so tightly in check. The Victorians liked to parade their ceremonial military presence. He had bid farewell to Rosa before taking his leave of her establishment, and promised he that he would call on her in a day or so. Prior to his departure, he had spent some hours of distraction in the private company of an enthusiastic brace of Green Martian hostesses provided, on the house, by Rosa. Private had seemed preferable to remaining in the main salon. His encounter with Sir Richard Barton had been enough to tell him that, in his dust-streaked duster coat, and with his off-world, demon ways, he was making himself a far too obvious outsider amid a gathering of the Extrosylvanian elite indulging in semi-public depravity.
   When Miss Harriet Marwood's painful birching was finally completed, the oiled Red Martians had released her, then indoor pony girls draped her in a blue silk robe, to cover her smarting stripes, and assisted from the room. With the show concluded, Barton had risen to his feet, as if he intended to follow his mistress to some rear dressing room or antechamber, but, before doing that, he had discreetly, but very deliberately walked by Yancey Slide.
   "I sense you carry a gun, sir."
   "Do you now?"
   "A radium revolver, if I'm not mistaken."
   Slide's voice was chill. No side-whiskered Victorian, no matter how well connected, was going to intimidate him. "You would appear very perceptive, sir. Especially from across a crowded room with so much else going on."
   "Are you a hired assassin or perhaps a Continental Operative?    Slide dismissed the question as though it was of little importance. "Neither, at this particular moment."
   "Maybe in the pay of our local Gorthan Assassins?"
   Slide made a stiff gesture of ronin denial. "In no one's pay, I assure you."    "But you felt the need to arm yourself?"
   "Let's say the weapon came with the package."
   "That must have been an interesting package."
   "Not particularly. I suppose it depends on your perspective."
   "I didn't catch your name, sir."
   "I didn't release it to be caught, Sir Richard."
   Barton had looked bleakly at Slide, and drew hard on his cigar. Rosa Coote quickly intervened and made a fast introduction. The two men shook hands, and Barton's smile was courteous but, at the same time, hard eyed as he excused himself. "Right now, Miss Marwood is expecting me, and I cannot keep her waiting after all that she has been through, and, indeed, neither would I want to. I suspect, however, we will be meeting again, Mr. Slide."
   Slide had nodded, knowing that a kind of unspoken challenge had been issued, but to what exactly he wasn't sure. All he knew was that Barton intended to make the predicted meeting happen. "I will look forward to it, Sir Richard."
   "You do that, Mr. Slide. You do that."
   After the exchange, Rosa had made it clear that it was not a good idea for Slide to be loitering in the public rooms of her Establishment. She wanted to stash him, with suitable means of amusement, in some more private sector of the house. Slide was in total agreement with that, if perhaps for different reasons. The two Green Martian hostesses, with their flexibility, ingenuity, wanton zealousness and, of course, those extra Martian orifices, would divert the body allowing the essential Idimmu, that was the core of Slide, to float free to the place of abstraction where his demon essence could, for the duration of the stoned and physical games, find an untroubled, demon stability. After all the drugs, and its prodigious journey across space and time, Slide's adopted body now bore little resemblance to the long gone Johnny Yuma, and was rapidly taking on the Slide more standard gaunt features. Nothing, however, was able to change the unconscious tactile memories contained in the cadaver's Orlac cells, and these urged it first to load up on the local advanced opiates, hallucinogenics, and then drift sideways, delightedly responding to the attentions of the two nubile Martians, who caressed extraordinary local stimulants into the body's eagerly receptive cells, some of which were actually secreted from their own lewd flesh, and then continued to work on him with hands, multiple tongues and other extremities, practicing extreme and vigorous obscenity until the body writhed and screamed, exactly echoing their own alien passion howls as the three way coupling rose to a climax.
   When all was done, Slide returned to ex-Yuma body. He dismissed the hostesses and dressed for the world outside. The temptation was simply to remain at Rose Coote's establishment as long as she would endure him as a guest, but, once again, his demon curiosity got the better of him. The body wanted to sleep, but Slide would not be dictated to by any annexed carcass and its imagined needs. He wanted to see more of this strange human city set down in an ancient Martian landscape, and that was how a further half hour found him walking in Albert Park, approaching a grove of faux-oaks, and a small stone henge-circle of modern fabrication that had been rather poorly distressed to make it resemble an ancient ruin. The structure would have fooled no one who had ever seen the real thing, and Slide assumed it was a pretentiously decorative folly, until he read the discreetly engraved bronze sign attached to one of the megaliths that claimed it as the property and sacred place of the Victorian Order of Martian Druids. Slide hoped he would be spared having to meet the VO of MD. They would not be dangerous, but, as a self-respecting demon, he had no desire to bored to distraction by occult whimsey.
   Slide was about to leave the fake henge when he felt the movement, a motion quite beyond his human senses, but with the resonance of a solid mass to his demon perceptions. What gave him paused was the inability of his demon perceptions to pinpoint location of this mass. He immediately went on the searching defensive, but still didn't catch the intrusion until it suddenly appeared in the form of a supposedly human figure, bullnecked and powerful, dressed in a flowing black overcoat and slouch hat.
   "Hold up there, daemon."
   Slide halted and turned to face the intruder. He might look like a man, but Slide knew instinctively that it was no more human than he. A human was unable simply to appear out of nowhere with quite such a supernatural sense of drama, and no human could conjure the ground fog that was suddenly drifting between the trees and around the megaliths of the stone circle, and certainly no human could recognized Slide as a demon in a man's body quite so easily. He been both made and surprised, and that was not good. No choice but the bluster.
   "And who might you be? You don't look like any Druid. Even a Martian druid."
   The figure moved closer. "You don't know me?"    In fact, Slide did know the figure, after a fashion, or at least he thought he did. It greatly resembled the man at Rosa Coote's, sitting behind Sir Richard Barton, the one who Rosa had pointed out as Nightshade, and had said smelled of vampire. Was Barton so advanced that the had the undead in his employ and had sent this one to waylay Slide?
   "I don't believe I've had the pleasure."
   "But I think you know me."
   Slide was stunned. Now he could smell vampire, and it was all he needed to trigger the recall. His full idimmu memory was vast, but made complicated by infinite dimensional levels and the relativity of time. The result was that large accumulations of data went ignored and unnoticed for sometimes subjective centuries at a stretch, until a random nudge brought long buried facts to the conscious surface. Nightshade. More fully Joey Nightshade. The entity was also known Lupo Leomonte, sometimes Lupo Rieti. In other contexts, he was Vincent Satrielli. He was a vampire, one of the colony led by the formidable Victor Renquist, by all accounts with a career of bloody assassination that went back to the Italian Renaissance. All that Slide knew told him that such a being had no such business on Mars at all, let alone eight million years in his own linear past.
   "You are Nightshade?"
   "I prefer the simple Lupo."
   Slide made a routine demon-to-vampire ward-off pass with his right hand, more to indicate that he had made this Nightshade, just as this Nightshade had made him, than as a gesture of protection. "I didn't know they had vampires on Mars?"
   "I would rather you used the word "nosferatu". It's connotations are less negative."
   "I'll try and remember that. I also don't like the term daemon."
   Lupo bowed in sardonic acknowledgment. "Then we must try and respect each other's sensitivities."
   "I am still surprise that a nosferatu should come to Mars."
   "Normally we don't, but She of Fable requested our presence and made it possible."
   "She of Fable?"
   "The queen of this...place. The former Wilhelmina Murray, and the wife of the Slayer Harker. She that was the consort of Count Dracula." Lupo did not sound as though he exactly approved of Mars. Or Harker, or Count Dracula either.
   "And you just arrived here?
   Lupo nodded. "By the same method as you yourself used, demon."
   A mind reading vampire? How else could Lupo know how Slide had come to Mars? He let that go for a moment, however, simply contracting his mind and vampire-perceived aura locking them both down beyond the reach of any Nosferatu psychic delving. "A Carter Machine?"
   "I believe that was the name of the device."
   "You could survive riding the Gridley Wave?"
   "I believe it was somewhat modified to make such a thing possible."
   "And now you're here, the sun doesn't not bother you?"
   Lupo eyed Slide coldly, less than pleased at what he obviously considered an interrogation. "Not when it is so very distant. I can feel it as an irritation, but it does me no harm."
   Lupo's response was structured in such a way that it gave discreet warning that further questions on Slide's part might be considered an invasion of Nosferatu privacy. He had forgotten how sensitive old school vampires could be about unwarranted intrusions into what they viewed as their personal business. To gain information was to gain strength, but Slide knew he should, for the moment, curb his curiosity. Lupo could too easily take offense. Slide had seen vampires become offended and it was always violent and most times messy. He wasn't afraid of Lupo, but he knew, in a trial of strength, they were, at the very least, evenly matched and the outcome might be anyone's guess. Fortunately an outside distraction created a natural pause in the conversation. A trio of unsuspecting Fygglhgis came down one of the radiating paths on the far side of the stone circle. Their carapaces and tripod legs clicked as they moved, causing both Slide and Lupo to turn. At the sight of the demon and the vampire, the small crustaceans turned and beat a hasty retreat while exhibiting the body signs of three beings who have suddenly remembered urgent business elsewhere.
   Lupo frowned at Slide as the Fygglhgis hastily vanished into the night, back they way that they had come. "Those things..."
   Slide nodded, as if totally understanding the nosferatu's confusion. "They are Fygglhgis. Indigenous Martians. I think our presence scared them off. They are understandably nervous creatures."
   Now Lupo was even more puzzled. "Indigenous Martians? How can such a thing be?" He gestured around at the immediate environs of Albert Park. "I though all this was all an artificial fabrication on a dead world."
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxIllustration courtesy of K-IX Graphics ©.

   Slide didn't need to read the vampire's mind to know that Lupo didn't grasp, or hadn't been told about, the cathedral gulf of time across which he had traveled. He believed that the Gridley Wave had only transported him from Earth to Mars, and that he was on some dead and dry C21 planet. Slide didn't feel like being the one to tell him that he was also a cool eight million years in his own relative past, and that the Gridley Wave might not turn out to be a reliable return ticket. In fact, Slide decided it was high time to take his leave. "Well listen, Nosferatu Lupo, this chance encounter has been very enlightening, but right now..."
   Lupo interrupted him.
   "You think to leave?"
   "I fear I have things to do and people to see."
   Lupo sternly shook his head. "I'm afraid, Idimmu Slide, that the places to which you go and the people you will see have already been precisely determined."
   Slide tensed, but did not move. "What?"
   "This is nothing personal, you understand?"
   "A matter of business?"
   "Exactly."
   "Then this meeting is not a matter of chance?"
   "I fear not. I was sent to bring you to the Turquoise Tower."
   "Turquoise Tower?"
   "The palace of Queen Mina."
   "You are in the employ of Sir Richard Barton?"
   Now Lupo really was offended. "Indeed I am not, sir. The human is a crude and predictable pervert. If I am in the employ of anyone, as you put it, I am in the employ of the Queen herself."
   Slide considered simply using the moment of Lupo's anger to take off. He had no idea if he could outdistance a vampire with his demon speed, but he was willing to give it a try. The problem with flight was that he had no clear idea to where he might flee unless it was back into the stews, knocking shops, and gin houses of the proles. He was hardly in any position to return to Rosa's or leave the city. He owed no debt of allegiance to these Victorians, but, from what he had heard so far, he doubted that the Slimy Things would greet him warmly should he try to defect. He might just as well go with Lupo to the Turquoise Tower. If nothing else, it would be a new phase in his Martian education. He was also amused by Lupo's condemnation of Barton as a "crude and predictable pervert" considering the vampire's feeding requirements, and methods of luring its prey, unless the Gridley Wave had radically transformed Lupo's metabolism. Slide raised an acquiescent hand. "I didn't think you were working for Barton. I just felt I needed to check."
   "Then you'll accompany me of your own free will?" Lupo seemed a little disappointed that Slide was offering no resistance.
   Slide gestured to the path that led away from the henge. "Shall we go?"
   The demon and the vampire walked rapidly with Lupo's personal fog at their heels, and they occasioned looks of concealed mystification from passing humans who did not know what they were, but grew nervous all the same. A gate came into sight, and beside it, clearly waiting for them, stood a ornamented and very gothic carriage, drawn by four jet black thoats, with two Red Martian postilions in royal livery, plus two footmen armed with short barreled radium rifles, who looked both formal and dangerously practical at the same time.
   "So my arrest is being conducted with a certain style?"
   Lupo opened the door of the carriage, and motioned Slide to get in. "Who said you were being arrested?"
   "It rather seemed like it."
   "You are merely being conducted to an audience with the Queen."
   "Is that what this is?" As he climbed into the coach, Slide could only conjecture that someone on Mars knew more about his situation than he did, and he didn't like that one bit. Again, it seemed that coasting with his curiosity might be the only way to learn who and what. They moved off, and the postilions pressed the thoats to a sharp pace. Beyond the carriage window, a broad avenue carried only a light, nighttime traffic of carriages, steam cabs, and various models of electrocars. If he looked up, he could see the riding lights of Martian ornithopters, and, every so often, a man or woman would float by them in midair, supported by an Equilibrimotor flying belt. Slide did not have a good view of the Turquoise Tower until they had left the thoroughfare, and were ascending a wide spiral ramp that was the only approach to the palace of Queen Mina. The soaring structure that loomed beyond the window was a narrow but baroque tower, a blue-green phallus, spiky with buttresses and gargoyles, floodlit against the Martian night. It terminated in a hypodermic spire, some kind of transmission mast, or perhaps a mooring staff for airships.
xxxxxIllustration courtesy of JZ (Jay Shah ©).
   As the carriage negotiated the rising curves of the ramp, Slide was also treated to a panoramic view of the Grand Canal and the desert beyond. Slide could hardly guess what Lupo made of the Grand Canal with its huge undulating pipes, believing as he did that he was on sere, and long dead planet. In the distance, Slide could see what looked like a second city, but where Extrosylvania was a place of light, neat within its circular walls, this
other conurbation sprawled dark and dirty, with tall smokestacks that belched black and noxious fumes into the thin Martian air, smoking slag heaps that blemished the red desert, and grim portals that revealed the angry red hearts of industrial furnaces. "What the hell is that place?"
   On this point, Lupo knew more than Slide did. "Those are the Morlock Foundries
   "The what?"
   "Where do you think these people get their weapons, and the rest of their neo-Victorian toys?"
   Slide had not been aware that Extrosylvania had an abundance of weapons, but, very shortly, he began to see this was in fact the case. Queen Mina kept herself heavily guarded, to a point where he would have believed Extrosylvania to be in a state of war, except that he had seen no similar signs at Rosa Coote's, or in the sectors of the proles. In those places, all had seemed peacetime normal, although he knew there was no predicting the paranoia of those in power. The coach passed through three sets of circular gates, defended by emplacements of heavy Gatling guns and light artillery, and manned by formidably armed guard companies of both humans and Red Martians. At the first gate, Slide also noticed blue flashes of concentric psychic energy briefly enveloping the coach, indicating to him how the Turquoise Tower was protected against threats both normal and metaphysical. They finally pulled up in a courtyard, where more soldiers waited, who, once Slide and Lupo had alighted from the carriage, immediately conducted them into the palace itself. With a six-xxxx
Martian escort,they were movedxxxxxxxxx Illustration courtesy of Jeanette (Moxie Graphix©)

swiftly through majestic, radium-lit corridors with walls, floors, and ceilings faced with geometric slabs of turquoise so large that they could have only been artificially produced. The destination to which Slide and Lupo were being led turned out the be a pair of tall and dauntingly imposing stainless steel doors, inlaid with gold and platinum, and flanked by even more armed men in the full armor of one of Extrosylvania's crack regiments.
   The immaculate guards caused Slide to momentarily wonder if his clothing was completely suitable for an audience with a queen. Funny how he always ended up in one variation or another of a dirty duster coat, and, if he hadn't known better, he might have believed himself the victim of a sartorial predestination. This final squad of guards relieved him of his radium revolver and gave him a small ceramic token in return, in order to retrieve the weapon later. Then the guarded doors swung back and Slide walked into the Throne Room of Queen Mina of Extrosylvania.

TO BE CONTINUED