“Grandpa has ears that truly listen, arms that always hold, love that’s never-ending, and a heart that’s made of gold.” –Anonymous
Keisha marveled at her first sight of Kentville as Isaiah navigated the steam-driven Fliver-B out of the tunnel and into the morning sun. Like the entrance to the Batcave, the camouflaged doors swung shut, and to the casual eye, they blended in with the rest of the mountain.
She was sitting beside Isaiah in the passenger seat, her large hat brim shading her eyes from the sunlight. Unlike San Francisco, this was a quaint little town nestled in the wooded mountains of a state park, quaint that is, except for the outrageous contraptions moving to and fro in the streets, adorning every building and even every person.
There were windmills driving cogs, turning sprockets, pushing rods, pumping water through fountains, turning fans that cleaned the sidewalks, and working escalators that led into the sides of shops, hotels, and apartment buildings.
Then there was the enormous brass clock face mounted on a tower at the south side of the town square. It was just striking nine o’clock, and a brass man took jerking steps out of an aperture set just below the clock, raised a large hammer with both hands, and then struck an equally brass anvil. “Clang.” He raised the hammer again and it fell, hitting the anvil with a “Clang,” and repeated that action seven more times. The brass man turned to face the square, and in a voice made of springs and metal filings announced, “Nine O’Clock in the morning.” In one final declaration of time telling, a steam whistle blew shrill notes. After that, the brass man retreated to the sanctuary of his robotic den to await the coming of another hour.
“That would get really annoying if you were trying to sleep.”
Isaiah chuckled, “I imagine it would, Miss Davis.”
“Are we going to be staying in Kentville for long, Pa?” Josiah leaned forward from the backseat, his head swivelling to and fro like a proverbial tourist visiting a strange new land, but it was stranger yet for Keisha.
“Until we hear from our friend, son.”
She noticed Isaiah didn’t call Granger by name, either her code name or the one she used as Stanley Tyson’s mistress. Oh, he’d been circumspect about her exact relationship to him, but it wasn’t hard to figure out. Granger was their only chance of getting into the Tyson Corporation’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco, rescuing Isaiah’s wife Eralia, getting back Grandpa’s engineering journal, and then the airship Graceful Delight.
“Alright, Pa.” The nine-year-old’s voice was a mixture of excitement and hesitation. Keisha knew he found Kentville fascinating and couldn’t wait to tear around and explore, but his Mom and sister had been missing for days, and now he knew she was a captive of the one man who could destroy his Dad’s plans to save this world and hers. Keisha had watched her Mom and then her Grandpa die, and she knew what grief and loss felt like, but how would it be to not know if the people you loved were dead or alive?
Isaiah found a parking spot in front of a short building with an ornate sign declaring, “Mrs. Emily’s Pancake Shoppe.”
“I thought we could all do with a spot of breakfast.”
Before Isaiah or Keisha could get out of the car, Josiah was off like a shot, an active boy’s hunger possessing his will.
“Son, wait for us, please.” Isaiah’s voice was calm but nevertheless, Josiah froze in his tracks and turned.
The man put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I know you’re excited Josiah, but please remember your manners. We have a young lady with us.”
“Yes, Pa. Sorry, Keisha.”
“That’s okay, kiddo.” She didn’t mind Josiah’s enthusiasm, but being called a “young lady” made her toes curl.
In response, the child walked to the restaurant’s door and held it open for the both of them.
“Thank you, son.”
“Yeah, thanks Josiah.” Keisha kept mentally tripping over the social niceties of this world, not that men didn’t sometimes hold doors open for women in her reality, but it was less common, and a lot of women found the act to be condescending. She was still deciding how she felt about it.
“Mr. Covington! It’s been too long.” A middle-aged or older woman a little shorter than Keisha bustled forth from behind a podium. She was Asian, what in the teen’s vocabulary would be called “plus-sized,” and beamed with so much joy she could almost be her own light source.
“Mrs. Emily. How good to see you again.” They each clasped both of their hands together. “I hope you have been doing well.”
“Oh, very well, Sir. Very well indeed.” Then she noticed Josiah. “Oh my, is that little Josiah? You’ve grown so much.” Like a flamboyant aunt, she bent down and hugged the boy so tightly, Keisha thought he might pop.
When she let go and the boy got his breath back, he said, “Yes, Ma’am, Mrs. Emily. Good to see you again, too.”
“And who is this? A visiting relative?” She greeted Keisha with no less happiness than she showed the others, but there was something in her eyes that told Keisha she was suspicious.
“In a manner of speaking. Mrs. Emily, may I present Miss Keisha Davis. Miss Davis, my good friend Mrs. Emily.”
“How do you do?” Keisha had been practicing the expected social behavior in front of a mirror. Amazingly, the rough and tough Granger had tutored her, which was when she discovered what an incredible actress the aviator was.
“I’ll get the back room ready. I assume you would prefer more intimate surroundings.”
“Be back in a jiffy.”
Mrs. Emily hurried off faster than Keisha imagined, while clapping her hands and giving orders to her wait staff, oblivious to the affect of her outcries to her clientele.
“Is she always this excitable?” The teenager kept staring as the proprietor disappeared in the back.
“Actually, this is one of her more sedate mornings.” Isaiah was looking in the same direction with bemusement written on his face.
Minutes later, the three of them were escorted into a small private dining room in the back, and after menus were produced and orders made, the waiter, who looked to be about Keisha’s age and could have been Mrs. Emily’s son, disappeared. What surprised her though, was the older woman joined them, even when Isaiah said grace, a practice that still made Keisha want to squirm uncomfortably in her chair.
“What’s the caper, Isaiah? Granger’s been playing this one close to the vest so all we’ve got up here are rumors.” Mrs. Emily leaned both elbows on the table and looked at Isaiah, the perfect picture of a conspirator.
“The need for secrecy is essential, Mrs. Emily. I’m sure you are aware that my dearest Eralia is the captive of Mr. Tyson, and that our daughter’s whereabouts are unknown.”
In an instant, the woman’s joviality evaporated, her face melting into a sad frown. “I know, dear. I know. We’ve all been praying for them. But this means you need a way into the City, right?”
“That’s where we were hoping you’d be able to assist.”
“Say no more. I’ll take care of everything from ferry tickets to fake IDs. Got a hook up for your transportation once you’re in San Francisco, but that’s as far as I can go. From there, Granger will have to take care of things.”
“She will be contacting you with the details. In the meantime, we’ll need a place to stay.”
“My home is yours.”
“Really, two hotel rooms will be fine.”
“Nonsense. I insist. I’ve got plenty of room in that big old mansion my departed husband left me. I won’t even notice you’re there.”
“Will your dozen sons and daughters not notice us as well?” Isaiah displayed a wry smile, but before she could answer, the waiter, who later Keisha would discover was one of her twelve children, next to the youngest, returned with their orders.
“What took you so long?” Her face looked stern, but then she winked at the boy.
“Traffic.” Then he silently set down the glasses, cups, and plates using the balance and dexterity of a stage magician.
“I’ll be sure to tip accordingly. Now shoo. We’ve got business to conduct.”
He bowed and then slipped back out.
“Timmy’s really a terrific kid. They all are.” This time her smile communicated admiration and a mother’s love.
“Have all of your offspring inherited your sense of humor?”
“They’d better if they want to survive living with me.” She turned to Keisha. “You see, I keep all my children close. They live with me and they work for me. That way, I always know what they’re up to, whether they want me to or not.”
“I see.” Keisha spoke softly and hoped she had enough of what Granger called a poker face to keep Mrs. Emily from seeing what she really was thinking. Having “Helicopter Mom” hovering over her 24/7 would feel a lot like suffocating.
Breakfast was made up of coffee, tea, milk, flapjacks, and scheming. Granger would have to choose the timing of their incursion into San Francisco based on what she surreptitiously wormed out of Tyson, but Mrs. Emily would do everything else.
“As we well know, Mr. Tyson has the local police, the local branch of the FBI, and the nearby military bases in his pocket, or most of their personnel anyway, and no doubt they have be alerted to look for us entering San Francisco.”
“Too bad Granger’s ruse didn’t last longer.” Mrs. Emily had ordered only a carafe of black coffee and a cup, and having finished her first mug, she started working on her second.
“Very true. The airship’s shell was found more quickly than we anticipated and they discovered the gondolas were not attached, thus they realized we had escaped.”
“Are they going to look for us here? I mean, the ship did vanish over a state park.” Keisha was fishing for more information about Kentville and how Mrs. Emily was involved in Isaiah’s plans.
“Part of this area is a state park and other parts are national monuments, Miss Davis, and to answer your question, it is my understanding that they’ve already been here and gone.”
“He’s right, Keisha. We usually get a pass because we’re on Thaddeus Drury’s payroll, and he’s even better connected than Tyson.” Mrs. Emily took her glasses off and polished the lenses with her cloth napkin.
“I am so confused.”
“Small wonder since the connections between what Mr. William Shakespeare has called the players is rather complex.” Isaiah put his fork down, having finished his meal, and sipped his cup of tea.
“Who’s Thaddeus Drury?”
“He owns this whole town and especially everything underneath, although that last part is a secret.” Mrs. Emily waved her arms in emphasis.
“But we’re in a state park.”
“Kentville is actually on federal land, Miss Davis.”
“Why is it called Kentville?”
“I know the answer to that one.” Josiah actually raised his hand as if he were back in school.
“Go ahead, son.”
“In the year 1908, Mr. William Kent, a noted philanthropist, politician, and businessman, donated the area in and around Muir Woods to the government for a national monument on the condition that President Theodore Roosevelt name it after conservationist Mr. John Muir.”
“So the town is named after William Kent, but what does that have to do with this Drury?”
“Mr. Drury is good friends both with Kent and the President. He convinced them to build Kentville on this site to develop a community run on alternative forms of energy. Someday steam’s not going to be enough, even with the Barsoonian charge. Hang on a second.” Mrs. Emily snapped her fingers twice and Timmy reappeared as if he’d been standing right outside. “Clear all this up, please.”
He quickly and efficiently cleared their places while Keisha was trying to decide if he were a clever actor playing a role for his Mom’s sake, or was just a Mama’s boy. She hoped it was the former, and if they ended up staying at Mrs. Emily’s house, she might be able to find out.
“Timmy left again and Mrs. Emily continued. “Anyway, Kent surveys the area and confirms what only a few people in the world know about. That there are large, natural caverns right beneath us.”
“Granger’s hideout. Drury had it constructed. But how do you build something like that without anyone noticing?”
“Oh, plenty of people noticed, but only the ones who did the work. Supplies, equipment, workers, they all poured into these mountains to build Kentville, which was the official story, but all the while, they were also building everything else.”
“Yeah. But why?”
“Your Grandfather described some of the politics of your own world, however whatever he knew about the less than honorable dealings of governments in that realm pale in comparison to ours.”
“Your world?” Mrs. Emily became instantly curious and perplexed.
“Yes, I mentioned that Miss Davis is a relative, but in many ways a distant one. It would take a good deal of time to describe the mathematics of it, but suffice it to say that this young lady is not just from out of town.”
“Another planet like in those ridiculous pulp serials?”
“Not precisely, and I’ll thank you to keep this to yourself.”
“You know I can keep a secret. Hell, this whole town can keep a secret.”
“This goes well beyond all that, but our Miss Davis, although from the Earth, is not from our Earth.”
“You want to run that by an old woman again? My hearing isn’t what it once was.”
“You aren’t that old, your hearing is fine, but I admit, the concepts are daunting for those not in the know.”
“Which would include me.”
“Miss Davis is the key to stopping the maniacal plans of Mr. Stanley Tyson cold in their tracks, but we must retrieve not only her Grandfather’s journal, but the airship he constructed, the Graceful Delight.”
“My Grandpa’s name was also Isaiah Covington, but he was an old man when he died. It’s like I live in a world like this one, but with technology a century ahead of yours except for some pretty strange stuff.”
“Such as the Barsoonian charge,” Isaiah chimed in.
“That would be the least of it. Steam-powered society where I come from was nothing like this a hundred years ago.”
“Look, I’ll take your word for it Keisha, mostly because Isaiah doesn’t have much of a sense of humor, so this couldn’t be a joke.”
Keisha glanced over to find a sour expression on Isaiah’s face and heard Josiah desperately trying to suppress a giggle.
“I’ll have you know, I have a fine sense of humor.”
“Well, you must have misplaced it somewhere. I’ll let you know if I come across it.”
Josiah lost it and laughed out loud.
“I think I found it. Your son must have lifted it off of you when you were napping.”
Now everyone was laughing, and finally Isaiah allowed himself a fairly humorous chuckle as well.
“You were telling me about politics and what, corruption?”
The engineer’s mood sobered immediately. “On an international scale. As I’ve alluded to before, the nations of the world are approaching an impasse in the use of steam and the Barsoonian charge. This is part of the reason that during my employ with Mr. Tyson, I was assigned to a team to develop new energy sources, some of which could be weaponized. It is also the reason I kept my research a secret for as long as possible.
“Mr. Tyson and Mr. Drury represent two major factions in America attempting to solve this crisis, but while the latter I believe to be a noble man operating above-board, and one willing to share his findings publicly, the former is an unscrupulous creature who believes in expanding his own wealth and power at whatever cost. People talk about the War Between the States as if it were over, but that open conflict was replaced by one that operates in shadow and secret. Whoever wins this energy race will rule the country, and possibly more than that.”
You see, Keisha,” Mrs. Emily put her hand on the girl’s forearm, “this is a war that is fought both with spies and subterfuge as much as with bullets and bombs. Tyson has control of most of the military and law enforcement agencies in the west, and has for decades. To combat him, Drury, looking ahead, had his secret, underground base constructed, knowing that when Tyson made his move for control, he’d have to be stopped somehow. That’s what it’s all about. Everyone in Kentville really is doing energy generation and conservation research, but here above and down below, we’re also an army, mostly of spies right now, but should it come to it, we’ll pick up guns as well.”
“Oh don’t let his shyness fool you. He’s as sharp as a tack and a crack shot. I keep my children close because when this thing busts loose, well…a mother loves her children and doesn’t want to see anything happen to them.”
“Okay. That makes more sense.”
“I’m glad you understand.”
“If we are successful, I hope to avoid an open, armed battle between our forces and Mr. Tyson’s.”
“That’s where Granger comes in, Keisha.” Mrs. Emily patted the girls arm and then pulled away. “She’s in close where we need her, though I pity that she has to be that close.”
“Mrs. Emily, please remember that there are children present.”
“I’m not that young Isaiah and I know what she means.”
“But my son…”
“Point taken and you’re right. I’ll keep my mouth shut about that.”
“I appreciate the courtesy, Mrs. Emily. As I was about to say, Miss Davis has brought with her the very items required to foil Mr. Tyson’s plot.”
“I’ve only figured out some of what that means, Isaiah. If I can see Grandpa’s journal again, I think I know what to look.”
“We still need to get to the Delight and the special engine your Grandfather built. Not only does it have the capacity to stop Mr. Tyson, but it’s the very energy source that could avert a world war and save us all.”
“World War One.” Keisha whispered it remembering what she learned in World History class, and then realizing how much more brutal such a war would be fought with weapons that could literally tear apart atomic bonds.
“Yes, your Grandfather imparted a knowledge of that part of your history to me, so I know what we’re facing if we go down the same path.”
“Say, how about I take you back to my humble little palace, get you three settled in, and then show you around Kentville.” Her attempt to change the subject was obvious, and probably for Josiah’s sake.
“Don’t you have a business to run?”
“I just work here for show these days. The place has my name on it after all. Number One daughter May is the Manager.”
“Very well, I shall…”
Isaiah had just produced has wallet when Mrs. Emily slapped his hand.
“On the house. Your money’s not good here.”
“Mrs. Emily, a gentleman always pays his way.”
“I’m not saying you aren’t a gentleman, but you and your family are also my guests. Be gracious about it for once, kapish?”
“As you wish, of course.” He put his billfold back looking a bit crestfallen. “However I do have my honor to uphold.”
“Which you’ve upheld more times than I can count, and I’m good with numbers. Now just let me gather my things and I’ll be right with you. We’ll ride in your car. I get my children to drive me wherever I need to go.”
“You don’t drive?” It hadn’t occurred to Keisha until that moment that this world might be primitive enough not to let women drive a car, though she couldn’t imagine Granger taking that lying down.
“Oh, of course I can drive, I’m just not good at it. Keep getting into too many accidents.”
There were two quick raps on the door, and then a woman who had to be one of Mrs. Emily’s daughters came in.
“May. I’m glad you’re here. Let me introduce…” She stopped talking when she saw the anxiety etched on her daughter’s face.
“You’ll want to read this. Just came in over the wireless.” May handed her mother a slip of paper and took two steps back.
The older woman adjusted her glasses and read the message, silently moving her lips.
“Oh dear. This is not going well.” She looked up at Isaiah. “Brace yourself. Joachim Rosenstein’s just been arrested, charged with corporate espionage and sedition. He’s been taken to County Jail and locked in isolation. If they get him to talk, he won’t be the last one.”
- 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
- Assault on Red Rock Island
- Death by Airship
- Subterranean Hideaway
It’s been a month since I’ve written a chapter about Keisha’s adventures in Steamworld, mainly because I realized I’ve painted myself in to a corner. In other words, I spotted a bunch of inconsistencies I’ve introduced into the story and plot holes big enough to fly an airship through. I’ve put together a partial synopsis to plug some of the holes, but hardly all of them.
I decided to barrel through the rest of the first draft and fix everything later. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m too heavily invested in Keisha’s story to put it aside. I’ve set aside my vampire novel and my synthetic woman novel, because I believe my Davidson children’s fantasy and this tale are my strongest concepts.
I’ve always been fascinated by vast, underground secret bases in books, TV, and movies. How do you build something that large and complex and keep it hidden from everyone. Hopefully my explanation about how Kentville and Granger’s Hideout were constructed sounds at least somewhat plausible.