“My grandfather was a wonderful role model. Through him I got to know the gentle side of men.” –Sarah Long
Keisha’s body jerked as she woke up. She remembered falling, but everything was dark and still around her. No, not everything.
“Miss Davis, you’re going to be fine. You just had a frightful dream, is all.”
“Josiah? Where am I?”
“Your cabin, Ma’am.”
“How did I get here? I was on the Bridge.”
“Pa found you passed out at the Helm.”
“Passed out? I thought…” She faintly remembered being chased by someone in a diver’s suit. She must have fallen asleep again.
“You’re not to blame,” the child replied as if he could read her mind. “There was a fault in the air return for the Control Room. You weren’t getting enough air.”
“How did he know?”
“We both heard you yell for help.”
She looked around. There was a light coming in from the passageway. The hatch was open, and she was lying in her bunk. Her damp clothing was clinging to her skin. She took a deep breath and the air smelled fresh. Then she realized she could hear not only the hum of the vent fans, but the main engines. They were moving.
“We’re underway again? How long was I out?”
“If you mean unconscious Ma’am, it’s about an hour after dark, so I’d say nearly twelve hours.”
“He repaired the main drive and got us going again. Your snorkel came in handy and let Pa fix up the Dakuwaqa.”
“Where are we going?”
“Pa said you should clean up. There’s fresh clothes on the chair. I brought in some water and soap. Guess I should be leaving now.”
She looked over the edge of the bed and saw a bucket and a stack of towels with a bar of what looked like candle wax that was probably the soap he mentioned.
Keisha looked up to see Josiah by the hatch, turning a knob, and she could hear the incremental “clicks” as the lighting in the encased bulb above his head became brighter.
“When you’re ready, Pa’s at the helm.”
He nodded and closed the hatch behind him as he left.
She had been in this same, now ruined outfit for over a day and she couldn’t wait to change. Taking a bath from a bucket was new to her, but anything was better than the grimy feeling he got from seawater, oil, and grease. Cleaning up was the easy part. It was going to be a lot harder figuring out how Mrs. Covington’s clothes were supposed to work.
She left the hat and the gun belt on her bunk, but wore the rest of the outfit. Keisha was thankful she still got to wear pants instead of those huge, uncomfortable looking waist to floor skirts that were part of most of the other woman’s clothes.
The jacket was short and black, the basic top was a light-gray, high corset fastened by twin buckles on the side, leather belt with a brass buckle, thick, dark, canvas pants, and high leather boots completed the arrangements. On those few people she’d met since her arrival, all this looked normal, but Keisha still felt like she was playing dress up.
“My, Miss Davis. You look quite a bit better than the last time, I saw you. How do you feel?”
“A lot better, thanks, Isaiah.” Keisha didn’t see Josiah around so didn’t bother to call his Dad “Mr. Covington” for the sake of propriety. “You look a lot better yourself.”
“As do I feel, thank you.”
“Checking the buoyancy system. Our craft’s progress has been a bit sluggish, and I wanted to make sure we weren’t unnecessarily burdened.”
She took her usual seat and leaned forward. “Speaking of unnecessary, the hat I figure is fashion, but why did my clothes also include a couple of blasters?”
He paused digesting the unfamiliar word. “Blasters. You mean the firearms, I presume.”
“Yes, and I wasn’t planning on shooting anyone in the near future.”
“You’ve seen what we’re up against. I’m sure at the moment of truth, you would want to defend yourself and Josiah and me if necessary.”
“Barsoonian charge was low in the port aft tank, Pa. Got it fixed up. Oh, Ma’am. Glad you’re up and around.”
The nine-year-old sat back in the chair at the engineering panel, having apparently returned from the checking the ballast tanks or whatever they were.
“Thank you, son. Miss Davis, if you’ll pardon me, I have to adjust our course and speed. Then I’ll be at your disposal to answer your questions. We’ve had little time to talk since your arrival, and I suppose you will want to know why you were sent here in the first place.”
“That would be terrific,” she muttered, but he had already turned away from her and was working at the helm controls.
She finally saw the practical use for the strange glove and arm system of small gears and levers he wore on his right sleeve. They connected to different sets of controls on the panels in front of him, augmenting his manipulation of the submersible. They weren’t just impressive looking props or decorations.
Keisha thought back to the gunmen who had attacked them in the Covington home. They had mechanically augmented parts too, but in their case, it wasn’t part of their clothing, but parts of their bodies, like they were steam-driven cyborgs.
“Yes, our sturdy vessel is responding much better now, Josiah. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Pa.”
“Now I’ll put us to a stop and have a look above these waters to verify our position. Take us up to Optiscope depth.”
Isaiah’s utility sleeve disconnected from the helm, and he rose as the ornately decorated periscope emerged from the ceiling.
Fifteen minutes later, Josiah was at the helm guiding the Dakuwaqa past the eastern shore of San Francisco as Keisha and Isaiah sat around a small table in what passed for a galley forward of their sleeping cabins. She had a cup of hot tea sitting in front of her, and he was pulling on his pipe, sending puffs of smoke into the air.
“Is that thing safe on a submarine?”
“You’re have a habit of questioning my judgment. If you weren’t my guest in this craft and a stranger in my world, I might take offense. Oh, and yes. The air filtration system is working well again, so we are safe from asphyxiation.”
“You were going to tell me what I’m doing here. So far, except for improvising a snorkel, I’ve been about as useful as a screen door on a submarine.”
“An interesting metaphor, but your Grandfather didn’t send you here for what you could do aboard the Dakuwaqa, but to interpret the secrets of the Graceful Delight.”
“What are you talking about? I never even saw the airship until just a few minutes before I came here. I don’t know a thing about it.”
“I was assured you would be the key to its operation and to our mutual salvation.”
“You have totally lost me.”
“What did the alternate Mr. Isaiah Covington tell you about this world and the reason for you coming here?”
“He didn’t say anything about it. Just that it was important and not to hate him for disappearing down his rabbit hole for the past five years.”
“Something about if I didn’t come here, there wouldn’t be much of a world to come, or rather, to go back to. I don’t remember what he wrote exactly.”
“Your turn. What’s going on?” How do you know my Grandpa? You literally live in two different worlds.” She looked down at her rapidly cooling cup of tea. “Or you did before he died.”
“I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard the name ‘Stanley Porterfield Tyson’ or ‘The Tyson Steam Power Transference Company?'”
“Doesn’t sound familar.”
“Mr. Tyson used to be my employer, and Mrs. Covington and I had been commissioned to invent a new type of conveyance for his company, one that would take us beyond the confines of your planet’s atmosphere and gravity and to the Moon itself.”
“You were making a spaceship? That’s a little hard to run on steam, isn’t it?”
“My dear wife had derived a complex set of calculations for a new adaptation of the Barsoonian charge, and I was responsible for constructing the prototype device.”
“The what charge?”
“I’m surprised your Grandfather’s journal didn’t mention it, since he was working at precisely the same task, which was, in fact, how we made our accidental acquaintance.”
Keisha tried to remember everything she could about the journal. A lot of it was full of the designs for all of those clunky steam-driven automations. There was a lot of math, most of it went way over her head, even though she was taking AP Trigonometry in school, but she didn’t recall anything about “Barsoonian”. She did remember something else, though.
“What does the Barsoonian charge do?”
“It’s our system of buoyancy, and I daresay that without it, much of the technology of our world would not be possible.”
“You use it in airships, too.”
“Indeed, and in our fixed wing aircraft. I mentioned that the Dakuwaqa was uncommon because I was the first to apply the charge to the ballast system of a submersible, however it is a method of reducing or even canceling the effects of gravity on an object, including those of the large dirigibles.”
“Anti-gravity. But Grandpa’s last contract project, the one he was working on for NASA, was for artificial gravity. Something to counter how long-term exposure to microgravity damages living systems. That’s one of the things that makes space travel to Mars or long-term colonies on the Moon impractical.”
“Your Grandfather and I, both working toward the same solution, were both wonderfully and disastrously successful.”
“He made it work? How? I mean, if he did that, it would have been all over the news. My Dad told me he couldn’t get it to go and sold his company. That’s right before my Mom died, and right before…”
“You feel as if he abandoned you.”
“That’s none of you business, Isaiah. Shut up.” Keisha hadn’t meant to go off on him like that. Most of the time, he felt sort of familiar, like she had gone back in time and met Grandpa when he was young. Right now though, he was a stranger, and he had no right to talk about how she felt.
“I apologize. I only mention it to you because he did so to me.”
“You…you talked to him? How?” She hurriedly wiped a tear off her cheek, pretending he didn’t see it.
“An unforeseen outgrowth of our research. His experimental device and mine resonated with each other across the void. At first, they were variances in frequency and modulation, a strange analog to Morse’s coding system. Eventually, we co-created a method that would transmit voice. But that’s not what truly changed in your Grandfather’s life. It wasn’t until we both realized the inherit danger if we took our experiments to their ultimate conclusion.”
“You mean traveling from one universe to another and meeting face-to-face.”
“Not precisely, since you are here, but…”
“Pa. I think you should come down to the control room.”
Keisha looked around and discovered the source of the strange static and hum that carried Josiah’s voice. She noticed the brass grating attached to something about the size of a car’s headlight, with a bundle of cables sticking out the back, and then snaking through a crudely drilled hole in the aft wall.
Isaiah got up, leaned over the makeshift device, and toggled a tin switch. “On my way, son.” He returned the tiny lever to its original position, then looked back at Keisha.
“I think you’d mentioned something about not being able to communicate with different parts of the boat from the control room.”
She tried to remember if she’d ever said that out loud but didn’t recall. “Good idea. You were busy while I was out like a light.”
“Let’s go see what my son needs from us.” He held out his hand. She took it and let herself be pulled to her feet.
Keisha walked into the control room right behind Isaiah, and seeing Josiah sitting at the helm made him look especially like a little kid.
“You said you wanted me to call you when we were ready to leave the Bay, Pa.”
“Thank you, son. If I may have my seat, please.”
The boy moved back over to his usual chair and the optiscope again was lowered from above. After Isaiah took a good look, he turned to Keisha. “Would you like to see? It’s rather impressive.”
“Sure.” She moved next to him, and then pressed her face on the scope’s lens. “The Golden Gate Bridge.”
It was illuminated by some form of electric lights, but she could clearly see the scores of steam-powered cars scurrying north and south. The few boats within her scope of view weren’t close at all.
“Where are we going?”
“To sea, Miss Davis. I suppose we are wanted by the authorities at this point, so this act will qualify us as pirates of the Barbary Coast. Fancy being a pirate?” He was smiling at her, and she heard Josiah laugh and say, “Aye, Captain. Yo ho, and a bottle of rum!”
Isaiah turned toward the child quickly and shot him an uncomfortable look.
“My fault, son. My jest was infectious.” His smile was kind as he looked at his son.
“Pirates? Are we going to start raiding merchant vessels and hauling off treasure?”
“Oh, something far more daring and fearsome, I believe. By God’s grace, I intend that we should topple a vast international corporation, and as a result, either save our two worlds or destroy them.”
Previous chapters of Keisha’s wild adventure are:
- The Adventure Begins!
- Aerial Encounter
- Police Pursuit
- Desperate Attack
- Submersible Disaster
- Menace in the Dark
- Below the Waves
With their submarine repaired, Keisha, Isaiah, and Josiah are about to embark on the next stage of their adventure, and the teenager is now starting to learn why she is here and that the fate of two worlds is at stake. Can they save their twin realities before disaster again strikes?
The next chapter is Farallon Sojourn.