Short Story – “The Gospel According to Verdu”

Ladies and Gentlemen, we present you a Sunday Steampunk Short Story. If you wish to submit your own prose for the reading pleasure of The Pandora Society please following the instructions at the end of this tale . . . 

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Excerpt from The Gospel According to Verdu  (book 2 of the Brofman Series)

by Emilie P. Bush

 

In a very real but easily overlookable way, Fenimore was broken. The man who left the Musser Point Inn was gone, buried in the avalanche of betrayals he felt, covered in the pile of stones thrown by his own psyche. As his lips stayed tight over his teeth, his mind still shouted insults at him: he had protected no one, he valued no love, he tainted every life he touched, he deserved to lose everything. On some level he knew that there was a field of life to be mown in Tugrulia, a forest of bodies that would be felled on his way to Verdu. Beyond that, he realized that he might find himself ultimately forced into betraying his very best friend. His orders were clear: find out what the Tugrulians knew about the Republic’s objectives there. In other words, discover how much Verdu had told his captors about his and Fenimore’s spying.

Kite’s Republic wanted Verdu—if he had become an asset to the empire and was spilling secrets—silenced. At best, that meant getting him away from his captors. If he had been compelled to talk, then the republic would want to know what information had made it to the Tugrulian leaders. At worst, Verdu could have freely given what he knew. That would make it impossible for Fenimore to return with his friend, and his duty would be vengeance.

His head swam with what-ifs: how likely was he to be able to get Verdu out of the clutches of the Hierarchy? What if he had switched sides? Fenimore hated to think about that possibility, but what if? Could he kill a man closer to him than a brother?

Fenimore, as he stood watch in the bow of his transport airship, thought about the inevitable slaughter to come. He tried to find his way through it, and each step of his mental preparations pushed his humanity farther away from his conscious self.

At twilight, a midshipman stalked up behind Fenimore as he stood watching the miles of empty ocean below. The young man shuffled his feet for a moment and waited, then cleared his throat to catch the Madman’s attention.

“Pardon me, sir. The commander says that we are close, sir. We should cross over into Tugrulian air two hours past dark. We will drop you in then.”

Fenimore grunted in the midshipman’s direction, his eyes betraying no emotions nor any thanks for the report. The lad carried on, “The commander says you’re welcome to any provisions you need and you have your pick of the armory—yours for the takin’—all you want.” His nervous tone had turned to one of envy. “I’d cash in there,” he added, mostly to himself.

Fenimore grunted again, then said, “Show me.”

“Aye, aye,” the younger man said with enthusiasm. He trotted to the closest ladder and slid down one level with Fenimore following him step for step. After several twists and turns, the pair entered the ship’s armory, and the midshipman began to point out the wide array of weapons available.

“Here we’ve got your classic standard-issue Republic SRE Twenty-three K, the finest tasing sidearm of our generation, but who’s gonna be satisfied with that? Over here’s a Bragg and Morrichai Flash Thirty-eight. It’s weighty but it can actually blast a hole in a stone wall thicker than a man’s arm is long. I have seen that demonstration personally. I’d have me one of them to mow though what-all comes before me. Yonder is a collection of Gracks; we got the long-arm, the mid, and the peewee. There’s trip wire flash-bangs, too, if you want to set a few warning perimeters. Last but not least, there is, to the back there, a Doc Reviere’s Pneumatic Launch Incendiary and Packet Dispersal System. It’s a backpack setup and very snappy, if I do say so myself.” The lad stood smiling like a carnie barker who had just made a convincing pitch for the common folk to take a gander at the exotic tattooed lady.

Fenimore remained unimpressed with the gadgets and max-kill devices the midshipman was touting, and looked around for a few more practical and less attention-drawing weapons. The lad seemed a bit let down that Fenimore didn’t select anything huge or shiny from the rack but instead rummaged through the bins below. He picked out several boot knives, a handful of small brick-shaped explosives, an assortment of clockwork timers and fuses, a few ropes with grappling hooks and a launcher, a compass, and a pair of sturdy leather gloves. He stuffed the few items into a canvas bag and turned to leave. The midshipman snorted, apparently thinking Fenimore had not chosen wisely.

Fenimore spun whip fast and grabbed the younger man by the neck, pushing him hard into a rack of Dr. Browner’s Electrofying Projectile Guns, pressing one of his newly acquired boot knives into the young man’s throat. The lad held his hand up in surrender, his eyes as big as pie plates. More unsettling than the knife was Fenimore’s voice when he finally spoke; it was as calm as if he were conversing about the afternoon’s weather.

“You think it makes it easier, boy? The whizbang and the popguns? That it makes a difference when you use the latest and greatest that the republic has to offer? Blood gets on you, whether you kill up close or from miles away. And then you have to do it again, and again, and the tiny droplets slowly cover you bit by bit until that’s all you can see in your reflection—the stain of every life you’ve ever snatched. So you go on and enjoy your little toys and gadgets, and we’ll talk again if ever you do any killing.”

Fenimore nicked the midshipman on the underside of the chin ever so slightly with the point of his blade. He slid the blade into his boot and, still looking at the younger man, said with a maniacal half smile, “Besides, what kind of idiot do you think I am? Using one of your high-gloss zappers would be a sure sign I’m a Kiter spy.” He crowded the midshipman so that they were again chest to chest and made a disapproving sniff, startling the boy. “The Tugrulians have been cutting one another’s heads off for centuries, so a good knife is the discreet weapon of choice. Forgive me for offending Dr. Browner, but where I’m going, his gizmos just don’t blend. Besides, I hate a weapon that depends on batteries.”

Without another word or change of expression, Fenimore turned on his heel and danced out of the armory whistling a bawdy saloon melody, as if he’d just enjoyed a pleasant ice cream with the young serviceman, rather than scaring the stuffing out of him.

The lad, still shaking slightly from the knees, tried his best to straighten up and muttered to himself, “Here’s to you finding one of those Tugrulians who wants to take your head, you loony.” He, in an effort to calm himself, turned to the racks of weapons, running his fingers over the glass tubes and various wires and brass levers. “There, there, my lovelies. He didn’t mean it.”

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