It Came From the Side Of the Ship

  1. Chapter 2: A Matter of Gravity
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 4: War Powers

“Light [and heat] are thus demi-etheric, travelling at once in the Ethereal and the Material Planes.

‘This, in fact, is the means by which wizards render themselves and other objects invisible. Light is bound from entering the Ether, and travels nowhere.” —James Clerk Maxwell, Ethereal Radiations

There were no clouds on the moon, and the air, when they felt it, was dry. The Athena’s Horn flew miles above the surface, moving slowly downward.

The surface of the moon was bright, but not quite so bright as seen from the Earth. It was the familiar Paradox of Flying.

Laura looked at Sam.

“There’s an odd smell… Sam, what’s that all on your shirt?”

Sam looked down at herself.

“Uhh… Nothing. It… came from the side of the ship. I’d better clean up.”

“Whatever it is, it smells like vomit. Where… ”

She grinned.

“Ah! Yes, you’d better clean up.”

“Don’t laugh, I’ll put it in your laundries.”

“Don’t you dare. Hurry up, before we land.”

Sam left.

Gods, I feel so giddy, Laura thought. Athena give us wisdom today.

The surface came closer. The air now was incredibly dry. The land was covered with craters, seas, and mountains. As they drew closer, smaller craters grew from the larger ones. The mountains were sharp and craggy. The water in the great Lunar sea was dull white, like dirty milk.

Daltrey was bringing them in like a madman. He was probably as overjoyed as her and Sam. Thru Hades in winter, she thought, Sam and Daltrey probably planned the whole thing out yesterday.

She breathed deeply. It was dry air, even stale, but it was new! This was the first time anyone had breathed this air. Anyone… as far as she knew. She looked more closely at the ground below them. There was nothing to indicate that any other people—or creatures—lived here.

The ship began to speed up. Daltrey was surfing them down the side of the mountains surrounding the sea. The dull grey rocks of the mountainside blurred past, no more than fifty feet below the ship. It was exhilarating. They skimmed out over the sea, flinging the milky liquid outward. Daltrey curved around and lifted into the air again, and came down for another arc.

Suddenly, the Athena’s Horn was careening, not flying. It plowed into the sea, nearly throwing Laura overboard when it rocked starboard.

The Horn slowly righted itself. Laura rushed down to the needle room to see what had happened to the Flier. She was met, halfway, by Astrogator Lyall, and, coming up the stairs, Flier Daltrey.

“Gaia’s Blood!” he said. “Sorry about that landing. Is everyone alright?”

“I think so,” Laura replied. “What happened?”

“I lost control. This is so overwhelming, I forgot how tired I was. Am.”

“Go to your cabin. Calm down and get some sleep.”

She turned to Lyall.

“Astrogator, make sure he does. Then come out on deck. We need to figure out what happened when we left Earth.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She turned and went topside again. Sam was there, in travelling gear. She wore her leather, her bow was at her back, and her revolver, dagger, and sword were at her side.

Laura looked again at the sword.

“The Incan! Sam, what are you expecting?”

The Incan sword was magicked, a gift from a friend in the Indian Nations. Sam only used it when there was a life-threatening problem.

“We have no idea who or what lives here. I suggest you also prepare.”

“But… ”

Lyall and Mahoney came above deck.

“Lyall,” Sam asked, “do you have any idea what happened? This trip should have taken weeks.”

“I don’t know. Maxwell’s theory says we should speed up once we leave the Earth’s Newtonian plane, but he predicted only two or three times as fast, ten at the most. It took us no more than half a minute to travel nearly three hundred thousand miles. We had to have sped up at least five orders of magnitude. It’s incredible!”

“Then,” said First Officer Mahoney, “anyone can do it?”

“If it’s repeatable. Any flier should be able to.”

“It had better be repeatable,” Sam said. “We need to go back. When will we need to take off to return to Florida?”

“Well, if we wait until it’s directly under us, probably two hours. But where we are, that’s not necessary. Look,” he said, pointing to the Earth in the sky, “Recognize that? Looks just like a map from here. And Florida’s right where it’s always been, at the southeastern tip of the United States.”

“Then as long as we can still see it?”

“That’s it, Captain.”

“Then we are going to investigate this area. I’ll need you, Astrogator. Bring your detector. We may need to know if gunpowder works. First Officer, take care of the ship, and get me two persons. Outfit them with ship’s weapons.

She turned to Laura.

“Mage, are you coming?”

“Someone’s got to keep you out of trouble.”

“Thru Hade’s, Sam, you have all the fun,” the First Officer said.

“Don’t worry, Roger. Next time, I’ll let you take the team.”

Mahoney stared up at the Earth, and at Florida in particular.

“If there is a next time.”

Sam clapped him on the back.

“Never look down when you climb high, Mahoney. Look that way, at the unblinking stars.” Sam pointed at the other side of the sky. “Oh, we’ll be back, all right. How can we not?”

Laura and Astrogator Lyall left to prepare, and returned in minutes. Lyall wore a Colt revolver and a large pouch on his belt and a glass flask and equipment at his side. Laura wore the mage’s pouch she always carried, and her ivory Colt.

Two crewmen were there, with Sam, in leather armor. The image of a stag jumping a horn was sewn over the left breast of each. They carried a shield, revolver, sword, and bow.

Lyall took his flask from his side, and a glass rod and piece of wool from his pouch. He rubbed the wool over the rod many times, and then touched the rod to the tip of the flask. Inside the flask were two metal leaves, hanging from a thread. Nothing happened. They all knew what it meant—gunpowder doesn’t work if the leaves don’t spread apart. They’d used this trick many times, especially in California, which was riddled with dead zones.

“Well enough, Astrogator,” Sam said. “Check regularly, and tell us if we leave the dead zone.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

He put the equipment away.

They boarded a dinghy, which was then lowered into the water. The two crewmen began rowing towards the shore.

From here, the water looked very strange. It was a dull, pasty white, and didn’t ripple quite the way water was supposed to. Laura gingerly touched a finger to it.

“What is it, Laura?”

“I don’t know, Sam. It feels greasy, almost granular. Whatever it is, it isn’t water.”

She pulled an empty vial from her pouch, and dipped it into the water. She stoppered it, then wiped it and her hands on a rag. She put everything back into the pouch.

“Well, I’ll let a chemist figure it out. Mahoney, find an empty keg and get us a bunch of this stuff.”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Leave it to the scientists. This whole place is eerie. It’s so silent.”

She looked back at the Horn.

“Look at the ship! It’s motionless in the water.”

“Not water. I don’t think there’s any water here. Is your skin feeling as dry as mine?”

“Yeah,” she replied, smiling. “Maybe next time we’ll need a vat of petrol gel.”

“I think I’d settle for a German lager.”

The dinghy beached. When it hit the sand, a cloud of dust went up, covering them, settling slowly. They stepped out, coughing.

Wherever they stepped, clouds of white dust flew up a foot off the ground. Their footsteps made only the slightest noise, and there were no echoes.

“This whole place is dead.” Sam whispered. “There’s nothing here.”

“Look at our tracks,” Laura said. “It can’t rain here. And there’s no wind. No air is moving at all.”

“If anything lived here,” Sam said, “there should be tracks… ”

They continued moving, following Sam’s lead. The crewmen had bows ready. They walked up the moderate slope for the better part of an hour, sending small puffs of dust up with every step.

The stars were amazingly sharp in the sky, and as still as the landscape. None of the constellations were right for that time of year. The sun, glanced at quickly, was a bright disk surrounded by blackness. Venus was at ten of the hour, and Mars at four, on either side of the sun.

“We’re out of the dead zone,” Lyall said, putting his equipment away again.

“Good,” Sam replied. “Check every hundred yards or so now. We have no idea how fast zones appear here.”

There was a thud above them. Laura reached into her pouch. The two crewmen put their bows away, and drew their revolvers.

They looked up, but saw nothing.

They heard the noise again. It was muffled, like their own footsteps, but it was coming from above, further up the mountain. Sam gave the hand signal to hide. They chose an outcropping and hid from whatever was up there.

The noise repeated, and repeated again. Suddenly it sped up considerably, moving rapidly towards them, then past. It was a boulder bounding down the mountain. The pasty white dust billowed into a huge cloud in its wake, enclosing them in darkness.

When the dust cleared, everyone except Laura held a revolver. Laura held a folded Chinese fan in her left hand. Her right hand was in her pouch.

A ring of twenty or thirty tiny grey human-like creatures surrounded them. Each held a small crossbow.

“Two can deal from this deck,” Laura muttered, and fanned in a circle around her. A great wind blew from the fan, blowing dust back into the air in a ring, and rolling some of the creatures also. Her right hand pulled a packet out of her pouch, and emptied the contents into the air. She muttered some Greek, and the dust from the packet sparkled and formed a mirror in the air.

“Get inside!”

Laura pushed one of the crewmen into the mirror. He fell through. She followed him, and the rest followed also. Inside was a small square room, empty. There was a mirror at the doorway where they entered. Laura kicked at the mirror once everyone was in, and it shattered into a fine, silvery dust. Behind where the mirror had been, they could see the cloud of dust settling on the moon.

The creatures were in a state of confusion. They scrambled about the path and around the rocks. One walked straight at the doorway, but disappeared when it reached them.

“The doorway doesn’t exist on their side,” Laura explained.

“Where did they come from?” Lyall asked.

“I don’t know,” Sam said. “I think we had better get back to the Horn, and then to Florida. We are not quite prepared for this.”

The creatures were small, no more than two feet tall, and hairless. Their skin was a light, white-mottled gray. Their crossbows were tiny, but looked quite serviceable. There seemed to be an infinite supply of the creatures, but they soon tired of searching. They all went up the path, out of sight of the doorway.

Inside the mirror room, they waited a few more minutes. Sam peeked her head out, around the door.

“They are gone. Let us go also.”

Laura was last to leave the room. They moved quickly down the slope, back to the dinghy. From about a hundred yards, they saw a dozen or so of the creatures climbing in and out of the dinghy.

“Astrogator,” Sam whispered, “find out if this is a dead zone. Laura, can you do anything?”

“No problem.”

In Greek, she called on Morpheus, and the creatures fell motionless to the ground.

Lyall spoke up.

“Powder works fine, Captain. Doesn’t look like we’ll need it, though.”

“Everyone, stay on your guard. We don’t know if there are any more,” Sam said.

They moved cautiously down to the dinghy. Nine creatures lay scattered about the beach. Two were draped over the side of the dinghy. Sam gingerly picked one up, in disgust, and put it on the ground. They were uglier up close. Their skin was the same grey as northern fish.

“These things are—”

Laura picked one up also, and brought it into the boat.

“Aww… So cute… Can I keep mine?”

“These are the most hideous things I’ve ever seen.”

“I want one. Maybe we can find out what they are.”

“So take it. Right now, we need to leave.”

Everyone else got into the dinghy, keeping Laura—and her captive—at a clear arm’s length. They pushed off and returned to the Horn.

“Laura,” Sam said, when they were aboard, “we need you to chair the ship. I can’t trust John on so little sleep.”

Laura sighed inaudibly, and tensed just a bit.


The First Officer was waiting when they boarded.

“Roger,” Sam said in reply to Mahoney’s enthusiastic questioning, “this is, without a doubt, the most desolate place I’ve ever been.”

“What’s that thing Laura has?”

“It’s one of the men in the moon,” Laura said.

“Laura, you had better get down to the needle.” Sam said. “Every moment we spend here is less time for the United States to prepare for the Spanish fleet.”

“We shouldn’t have spent so much time here already,” Laura said.

“True. It’s just so overwhelming. But, let’s go.”

Laura put the still sleeping creature and her vial of moon water in her quarters, and went down to the needle room. She poured oil into the stone basin, and lit it with a long tapered wick. Smoke filled the room and cleared her mind.

  1. Chapter 2: A Matter of Gravity
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 4: War Powers