“Young people need something stable to hang on to, a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.” –Jay Kesler
“Still no sign of the warship, Isaiah. It’s been four hours.” Keisha was whispering in the hot, humid air of the Dakuwaqa’s control room. Both Isaiah and his son Josiah were at their stations, trying to remain as motionless as possible.
The man at the helm looked back at the chronometer over the engineering station. “Yes, Miss Davis. The danger is still present, should the Navy ship be playing the same silent waiting game as we, but we must risk moving our submersible. Son. Apply minimum power to the screws and I’ll raise us marginally off of the bottom.”
“Yes, Pa.” The nine-year-old expertly worked the knobs, wheels, and levers on the tin, brass, and wooden panel in front of him, and Keisha could detect the faint hum of the engines from the rear of the boat. At the same time, Isaiah pulled back on the helm gently, activating the Barsoonian charge which restored just a slight bit of buoyancy to their craft. Power was also increased to the atmospheric circulation system, refreshing the air aboard.
“Smart thinking to park our sub next to one of the bridge’s support anchors on the bottom of the Bay.”
“Too true. The Navy would hardly send explosive charges in this direction, crippling the conduit between San Francisco and the East Bay. Keep listening. I trust only in Providence, not the machinations of Mr. Stanley Tyson.”
“Still quiet. I hear what’s probably a ferry coming from the direction of the City. Some fishing boats further away.”
“Yes, it will be dawn in about an hour so such traffic is expected. The timing is also why we must be going.”
No one had dared raise their voice above a whisper, still fearing the presence of the Naval ship that was apparently under orders from their adversary, however as the seconds passed into minutes, there was no sign of pursuit.
“Strange. I would have expected them to be on us at this juncture. If I were in command of a vessel seeking a nearby undersea vessel, I would have sat and waited, just as we did on the Bay floor.” Isaiah was speaking in a normal voice now.
“Still nothing suspicious. Maybe the ship’s captain isn’t as smart as you are.”
“It is hardly a difficult strategy, but perhaps the Almighty has His hand in this. Whatever the case, we must make north for an open portion of these waters before dawn. Our good friend Mr. Rosenstein may have word about Mrs. Covington’s capture.”
“How would he know?”
“The two of us are not alone in this endeavor as I had thought you would have guessed by now.”
“You could just tell me. I know you had a confederate at Goat Island to get your wife on the base, and that she was the one who signaled you from shore last night, but I don’t know anything else about who’s working with you.”
“I suppose I should give you both the full details, but now is not the time. Josiah, give me control of the power plant. I need speed and maneuvering control.”
Keisha turned in her chair to look at the boy on the other side of the room.
He interpreted the expression on her face and shook his head, “no.” Isaiah was keeping them both in the dark about the full scope of whatever it was they were doing.
“Acknowledged, Mr. Rosenstein. Transferring you to Mr. Covington. Over.”
It was only thirty minutes until sunrise and they’d been able to raise their wireless antenna mast above the surface between Alcatraz and Angel Island to make contact.
“Very well, Miss Davis. Isaiah, are you reading me? Over.”
“Loud and clear my friend, but we haven’t much time. Dearest Eralia was not at the rendezvous. I was notified in haste that she had been captured along with the item in her possession. Over.”
“Aye, I thought maybe that was the case. I don’t have the specifics, but our mutual friend Herbert passed on information that a high priority package or passenger had been taken to Mr. Tyson’s home early this morning and that he was not to be disturbed. Over.”
“Red Rock Island? It is worst than I feared. Over.”
“Perhaps not, Isaiah. If Mrs. Covington had been taken to Tyson’s Fortress in the City, you would never have reached her. This way, there might be a chance. Over.”
“Slim at best…” Isaiah paused for a moment. “I have an idea. Can you contact Herbert without risk to either of you? Over.”
“Yes. We use a variation of a telegraph code between us and on frequencies that we believe are not monitored. Over.”
“Excellent. Tell him to have Granger ready the Kestrel for action. I’ll make contact after sunset to coordinate. Over.”
“I’ll pass that along. Anything else? Over.”
“Any other relevant news? Over.”
“None currently available. You don’t know what’s become of Leah then. Over.”
“Only that she’s safe, but even the contact didn’t know where. Over.”
“Then I shall get on with my appointed task, and pray to Hashem that your wife and daughter will be safely be returned to you. Over.”
“Thank you. I must be off. Over and out.” Isaiah took off the headset and nodded to Keisha.
She broke the wireless connection and lowered the radio mast.
“Pa. How are we going to get Mama back?”
“I will call in some assistance, son. There are those upon whom we can depend. Never fear. We shall retrieve your mother and then assuring your sister’s continued safety, we shall strike at the heart of the matter and reverse Mr. Tyson’s fortunes. Of that, I promise.”
“Yes, Pa.” Josiah didn’t sound terribly convinced, even though in Keisha’s eyes, he implicitly trusted his Dad.
“Wireless mast secure, Mr. Covington.”
“Very well. I’m taking us down. Josiah, give me half-power. We’ll be continuing north. Now that I believe I know where Mrs. Covington is, I am developing a plan for her rescue.”
“Where is she? You mentioned Red Rock Island. Where’s that?”
“It is a small piece of land in the northern part of the Bay between Point Richmond and Point San Quentin Village, and the private residence of Mr. Tyson. He has taken my beloved to his very home.”
“Can we get her out of there, Pa?”
“That is my plan, son, but it won’t be easy. That tiny spit of land is his sanctuary and heavily guarded by his half-metal men. Alone, we would have no chance, but Mr. Rosenstein is correct. We still have better odds of accomplishing our goal than if she were in the middle of San Francisco.”
“Wait. You asked Mr. Rosenstein to contact someone named Herbert. Who’s that?”
“Not his real name, of course. A confederate still in Mr. Tyson’s employ who is a valued source of information as he shares my passion for undoing the villain’s schemes.”
“We will need support for our plan to succeed, Miss Davis. If Granger is willing, then we shall have it. For now, we will make our way to the vicinity of Red Rock Island and then wait on the bottom until after dark. In that time, we can replenish ourselves with food and sleep, both of which we require desperately after our ordeal at Goat Island.”
Isaiah guided the Dakuwaqa nearer but not too near to Red Rock Island while Keisha monitored the local traffic on the surface. They were able to travel at well below the submarine’s maximum velocity since they had all day to get to where they were going, and on the unlikely chance anyone above was listening, they wished to leave as small an acoustic “footprint” as possible. All this time, the teenager was considering something she’d first conceived of during their Farallon sojourn, particularly when she had inventoried the additional spare components loaded aboard by Mr.Rosenstein while they were hidden beneath his lighthouse sanctuary.
Having arrived at their destination and with the submersible resting once again at the bottom of San Francisco Bay, Keisha began to gather her materials and started the preliminary stages of her project. Naturally, Isaiah and Josiah were curious.
“Remote control?” The elder Covington said the words in the same way he might have said “You are from the planet Mars?” Then his face illuminated with an epiphany. “You mean like the ‘Otto the Pilot’ idea of your Grandfather’s, a way to mechanize the piloting of an airship.”
“Well, sort of. Actually, it would let you use the wireless system to control certain aspects of submarine operations at a distance.”
“I fail to understand how this could be useful. If I were not aboard the Dakuwaqa, I would be unable to maneuver her, lacking access to the auditory sensors or a compass.”
“The remote device works both ways. You receive information regarding compass heading and acoustic signals and manipulate the power plant and helm accordingly. Of course, you wouldn’t have the same granularity of control since there are only so many dials, knobs, and levers I can cram into the box, but it would be enough to cause the sub to surface or dive.”
“I see.” He still sounded dubious and Keisha was getting a little annoyed. “I accept that the capacities of your innovation are accurate, but again, to what purpose? The only time when all three of us would depart the safety of our vessel is when we are in safe harbor. In all other circumstances, at least one of us would remain here.”
“That might not always be practical, such as when we have to get your wife off of Tyson’s island. You’re going to need all the help you can get.”
“I had planned to leave you and my son on board when I made my effort.”
“You can’t, Pa. I want to help get Ma out of there, too.”
“I know you do, son, but as much as I’ve come to rely on both you and Miss Davis, the task will be far too dangerous and, after all, you are both children.”
Keisha bristled at the remark. “You had me wear these things for a reason.” She slapped the twin holsters on her hips.
“For self-defense, not for attack. Besides, I will have support from the air and I will certainly need it. No doubt, Mr. Tyson’s private residence is heavily guarded. Even with your and Josiah’s assistance, without that aid, the effort would be doomed to failure, barring Divine intervention.”
“Enough, son. I know you love your mother, but imagine what she’d say if I allowed you to accompany me.”
The nine-year-old thought for a moment and frowned, but he didn’t argue again. Apparently, his mother would have a lot to say to Isaiah if he took the boy on a mission to face a multitude of armed, steam-driven cyborgs.
“You have my permission to proceed with your operations Miss Davis, however, I would like to inspect your work.”
“No problem.” Keisha’s mood brightened at the thought of tearing into the submarine’s control systems. “You already have the capacity to shift control of helm and power from one console to another. I’ll just link those systems to the wireless and then add input/output modules that will modulate radio signals to electronic impulses and vice versa.”
Keisha found she needed a little more help from Isaiah than she originally anticipated. Her crash course in the submersible’s controls gave her a good working knowledge of its basic operations. But it would take weeks or more before she became proficient in the craft’s inner workings, especially when the technology in this world didn’t reliably map to how engineering worked in her reality.
By nightfall, the two of them had the necessary wiring and circuitry in place, but she still needed to build the control box. Josiah had done the metal-cutting and constructed the framework, but she still had to install the radio and system management components.
She and Josiah were in the machine shop working on the box and didn’t notice Isaiah accessing the wireless in the control room sending his covert message to the person code-named “Granger.”
Keisha woke up in her cabin wondering how she’d gotten there. Then she remembered Isaiah made her lay down for a while. She had a hard time remembering when she’d last slept. After getting dressed, which included reluctantly putting on her gun belt, she headed for the control room.
The chronometer said it was just after two in the morning. Everything was quiet. While she had been running cable, she added an additional speaker to each of their cabins, so they’d be able to hear any sounds of suspicious traffic nearby. That relieved them of the need to keep someone awake and posted at communications. The high school student headed toward the aft end of the boat and into the machine shop. The control box was nearly finished and she thought she could have it ready by dawn. Isaiah planned his landing on the island for first light, and she intended to convince him to take her and Josiah along.
“Absolutely out of the question, Miss Davis.”
“You might need us. A thousand things could go wrong.”
“One of them being you and Josiah getting shot.”
“Or not. Look, the remote box is done and it works.”
“That’s hardly the sole reason I require the both of you on board.”
“I know that. Look. We’ll stay with the raft and we’ll be armed. You can’t take the chance one of those cyborgs might find it. If you get into any trouble, you can fire your flare gun and we’ll come running.”
“If I fire my Very Light Pistol, assuming I accept your suggestion, it will be your signal to depart shore for the Dakuwaqa post haste.”
He was coming around. She just needed to keep pressing her argument. “Okay, let’s say we do that, but you can’t leave the raft unguarded. Your plan might not take care of all of Tyson’s augmented goons.”
“Your colorful use of language aside, you may have a point, though I’d prefer if Josiah remained in the vessel and submerged.”
“I’ll have the remote and can submerge the boat after we leave it. I promise to keep Josiah safe.”
“I’m a good shot, Pa. Tell her.”
“I haven’t consented to Miss Davis’s plan yet, son.”
The boy knew better than to argue too much with his Pa and looked expectantly at Keisha.
“It will be dawn in an hour, Isaiah. You’re going to need us and we’ll need time to get our equipment together.”
The vessel’s captain paused to consider the proposal, then sighed in resignation. “Very well. You make some good points, but I adjure you that upon sighting my signal, you and Josiah will immediately leave shore and return to the boat.”
“I promise. I’m not going to let anything happen to him.”
“Very well. Gather your supplies. As you say, dawn will soon be upon us.”
There was no easy approach to Red Rock Island. In its natural state, it was slightly over 150 meters at its longest, no beaches or other places to land a boat, and it was roughly shaped like a reddish hump rising out of the water, a lone, spiny knob on the back of a sea serpent encased in stone.
But it was also at once isolated in the Bay and yet, by boat or airship, within reach of one of the west’s premiere urban centers. Stanley Tyler purchased it for the proverbial song, had a beach and pier constructed on opposite ends of the island, leveled off the top, and then built a mansion surrounded by a park on it.
There were several outbuildings, one of which housed his private security force, the mechanized men, what Keisha called cyborgs. It was said that in addition to their various body parts being replaced with metal pistons and pulleys, and supported by cogs, sprockets, and some bizarre and proprietary application of the Barsoonian charge, portions of their brains had also been replaced by something akin to wireless technology, giving the gunslinging horde the ability to silently communicate with each other, and presumably with Tyson as their leader.
They were heartless, soulless automations, slavishly loyal to their master, and as relentlessly lethal as a cannon with a consciousness. If Eralia Covington were being held prisoner within this domain, it would be inconceivable for a single man to successfully secure her release, even if that person were her husband. And yet, he had a plan.
The Dakuwaqa surfaced just before sunrise on the western side of the island some sixty meters from the man-made beach. Naturally, it was patrolled by several mech-men as they were called. Theoretically, a skilled sniper with the proper rifle and scope could have eliminated them, but not at all silently. Plus, there were at least a hundred more out of sight.
Keisha helped work the winch that silently lowered their raft into the water. She and Josiah loaded the supplies and then took their places within the life craft. Isaiah made sure the top hatch of the submersible was secured and then joined them. He and Keisha rowed together toward the shore. When they were distant enough, the inventor touched the girls arm lightly, the only signal he could give that would be both silent and effective in darkness. She had the remote control box in her lap and released her oar so she could toggle the power switch.
After the unit warmed up. she manipulated the ballast controls and their only home for the past several days slowly sank below the waves back to the bottom of the Bay. There it would stay, operating on minimal power consumption, until summoned.
The sky in the east lightened, casting the island as a large, imposing black mass.
Long minutes passed, and though adequately dressed, Keisha was shivering. Then she thought she heard a noise above her and to the west. She looked at Isaiah and was just able to make out his face and an expression of anticipation. He nodded. It was Granger. The Kestrel had arrived.
Out of the fog hovering over Marin County like a malevolent plague, emerged a vast airship, much larger than the Delight, though her immediate purpose was not apparent. Keisha didn’t need a signal from Isaiah to know what to do next. She donned the massive, uncomfortable gas mask that belonged between the covers of Erich Maria Remarque’s famous novel, which had been required reading in her AP English Lit class earlier this year and a lifetime ago.
Now, she could barely see, and while the mask was supposed to isolate her from various airborne toxins, that didn’t mean breathing was very easy.
The Kestrel seemed to bring the fog with it, but from what Isaiah had told her, she knew that was subterfuge. Keisha could just make out the four figures on the beach react to the dirigible’s presence, but so far, they hadn’t brought their weapons to bear. Perhaps someone higher up was contacting the pilot by wireless notifying him that his ship has wandered into restricted air space.
Then the fog, for it appeared as such, washed over the raft and moments later, the beach. The four mech-men collapsed as if a quartet of Pinocchios had their strings cut by an unseen Geppetto. Now was the time to row hard for shore and both Isaiah and Keisha put their backs into it, with the teen reminding herself again that she needed to spend more time at the gym.
Minutes later, they were pulling the raft onto the beach. Keisha stared at one of the mechanically adapted men.
“They’ll be unconscious for hours. Even these automated gentlemen, and I use the term inaccurately, need to breathe. Still, it would be prudent to disarm them and tie them up. Time is precious so I must leave to discover my wife.”
“Josiah and I will handle it, Isaiah.” Her voice sounded strangely muffled because of the mask.
The boy hugged his father, something else rendered difficult and awkward by their protection.
“I know son. I’ll bring her back.”
The child forced himself to let go of his father and then they watched him run across the beach and to the only trail leading away from it, and then up.
The drone of the airship’s engines faded but not completely, so they assumed it was hovering over Isaiah’s target. The duo tied up the mechanical assassins with rope re-enforced with steel fibers, strong enough to hold even men with their boosted strength. If Covington was right though, they should be long gone before that theory was tested.
The gas had dissipated but neither Keisha nor Josiah decided to test the air just in case traces of the sedative gas lingered. All of their opposition should have been neutralized, but there was always a chance a few stragglers escaped and could find their way to the beach. She fingered the holsters she was wearing. Josiah was holding a small rifle.
Then she heard a sound from overhead like a muffled explosion. They both looked up at the same time to see a red flare descending and in the process of burning out.
“Pa’s signal. He’s in trouble.”
“He said if he sent up a flare, that meant we had to get back to the sub.”
They looked at each other, the pause fecund with indecision. She saw the look in his eyes. It was the same look she had the day her own Mama had died. She’d lost Grandpa to his obsession not long afterward, but she still had her Dad. If they left for the sub now, Josiah could be left an orphan in a matter of minutes. How could she do that to him?
“Right. Let’s go.” Making sure the control box was secure in her rucksack, she put it on. Keisha looked around one more time to make sure the steampunk cyborgs were still unconscious. Then she ran in the direction Isaiah went, his son close on her heels. She was sure this was a terrible mistake. But the bigger error would be in leaving her friends behind to die.
- The Adventure Begins!
- Aerial Encounter
- Police Pursuit
- Desperate Attack
- Submersible Disaster
- Menace in the Dark
- Below the Waves
- Prelude to Piracy
- Farallon Sojourn
- Forlorn Rendezvous
In this eleventh chapter, our intrepid trio is once again in hot water, this time confronting the author of their woes in his own lair. Whoever is aboard the Kestrel has somehow failed to subdue all opposition, and now Isaiah Covington is signaling that he’s in trouble. What do a fifteen-year-old and a nine-year-old do when told to get off the dangerous island and back to the safety of the submarine? They had straight into the jaws of menace instead. Next time, we’ll see what fate awaits them all.
Next chapter: Death by Airship.