Men Not Afraid: The Spoils of War

  1. Chapter 7: The Maiden and the Mob
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 9: King Solomin’s Mines
In the last chapter we saw how badly off for water Mars, to all appearance, is; so badly off that inhabitants of that other world would have to irrigate to live. As to the actual presence there of such folk, the broad physical characteristics of the planet express no opinion beyond the silence of consent, but they have something very vital to say about the conditions under which alone their life could be led. They show that these conditions must be such that in the Martian mind there would be one question perpetually paramount to all the local labor, women’s suffrage, and Eastern questions put together—the water question. How to procure water enough to support life would be the great communal problem of the day.—Percival Lowell, Mars, Roman Year 2649.

The cheers from the shore died slowly in her mind as Captain Samantha Smith carted her sister Laura to their Miami apartment. Laura’s breath was ragged, her body rigid. The coach bounced along the dirt road. The road was criss-crossed with ruts from the recent rain. The inside of the coach was lined with velvet. The curtains were laced with gold. This was Captain Joshua Harding’s personal coach, with Joshua’s personal chauffeur. Joshua had put his listing Liberty’s Maiden out of his mind when he saw Sam’s sister unconscious. No doctor was with them. The Athena’s Horn had its doctor, but the Athena’s doctor was Laura herself, and she was in no shape to give her own prescriptions.

The moon-man clung worriedly to the hem of Laura’s toga.

The rushing coach sped through Miami’s streets. Miami slept the sleep of the cat, or the sleep of the damned. After a night of fearful waiting, the hurricane had struck. Those whose homes had survived now slept in their damp beds, swords and pistols at ready. Those whose homes were destroyed slept fitfully outside in the cold, weapons also by their sides.

Those whom the coach passed awoke enough to keep their eyes open; they stayed so awake for a few minutes, saw no invaders following, and returned to sleep.

Sam carried Laura into the King’s Inn. The coach-driver—Captain Harding’s “chauffeur”—opened the doors before them, and procured a bottle of aquavit from the proprietess.

When Sam and Laura had come in the night before, the moon-creature was caged and hidden. Now it followed along running zig-zag behind Sam. Those patrons who awoke and saw the sight believed themselves still in dream and so returned to sleep.

When Sam laid Laura out on the bed in their apartment the moon-creature stared silently. It looked hungry again.

“Go announce to the town that we’ve won this battle,” Sam said to the driver.

“With pleasure, Captain Smith,” he replied.

Alone, Sam soaked her brown coverchef, a wide kerchief, in the aquavit and then placed it on and slightly into Laura’s mouth. And then she waited. While she waited she gazed at the moon-creature and began to wonder just what by Jove they were going to do with it. It was obviously tame enough. It hung onto Laura like any puppy or child. But what if it needed food, or some strange humors, from the moon? What if it turned into a werewolf when the Earth was full? she thought. Then she drifted off to sleep to the sound of Laura’s now more rhythmic snoring.

Laura returned to consciousness before Sam: she’d had a head start on sleep, after all. There was a noise of some sort outside the inn. There were musical instruments, and obviously a crowd. And the unmistakeable clattering of foot against stone that meant dancing.

In the time that Laura was sleeping, the driver had already been feted in half the bars of Miami, and was ready to work on the other half. He put Captain Smith’s command to the best advantage possible: the price of his liquor was the tale of the Horn’s single-handed aerial defeat of the Spanish fleet. And of course with his own captain’s valiant aid from the water-downed Maiden. Between the first drink at the King’s Inn to the uncountable drinks later across Miami, the fleet had grown in size from a “mere” 32 waterbound ships to fifty, accompanied by two, three, or four fliers, depending on how many drinks he thought the bar was good for. The more drinks, the better the tale.

When he would awake the next morning he would, as he applied compress to his forehead and shut out the near-midday sun, realize the inherent flaw in this pattern: for the better the tale, the more drinks. If the more drinks, the better the tale; and the better the tale, the more drinks; the tale soon wandered off from ship’s with the name of dragon to dragons themselves, and water sprites straight from the Irish shore. By tomorrow’s morning both the Horn’s valiant defense and the driver’s valiant barhopping were legendary. The driver would be too much in the results of his efforts to venture into the celebrations, but the crew of the Athena’s Horn were praised in the driver’s wake as the heroes and heroines of the day. All of Miami broke out in dance and music.

The celebrations centered in two places. First, at the shore where the battle was. Beaches are always magnets of Dionysos. Second, at the King’s Inn, where the heroines stayed.

Laura had one important order of business to attend to before attending the fête. She chose to let Sam sleep longer while she examined the moon-man’s water. Whatever the water was, it obviously cured the creature’s hunger. She now had to ensure that she could create a steady supply of it. If she could not create more on Earth, they would have to make an immediate trip to the moon again, just for the sake of this one creature. It would be a waste of time and flier’s energies, but still she wouldn’t have minded failing: what else, beyond the moon, might they find if they began sailing the vast dark seas of space?

She went to her trunk and signed the release. A faint flash indicated that the protection was temporarily relieved and it was safe to open the trunk. From the trunk she took bulb of fennel; a crooked glass tube; and a thumb’s full glass carved from Aztec jade. Then she closed the trunk and re-sealed it.

Her flatburner was already on the desk of the sparse room. Upon it she placed the fennel. She lit a wick from the room’s oil lamp and lit the burner. She signed a clearing onto the flame. There would be no warning here if her sign failed, though in this case all that it would mean would be an incorrect divining.

The fennel burned slowly and its sweet, acrid smoke filled the room. Sam coughed in her sleep. The moon-creature stared wide-eyed at Laura. Laura did not notice. She began chanting. At the same time she filled the tiny jade glass with moon-water, and placed the crooked tube, one end into the glass and the other above the flatburner. She did this with her left hand; with her right, she held a pen, dipped it in ink, and began to write. The moon-water slowly rose from the jade thru the glass. As it rose through the tube it began to break into its component parts; this Laura noted. Drop by drop it fell into the burning fennel. Each drop burst into steam, or flame, depending upon its makeup, and by flame and steam, and color and odor, by sound and speed Laura divined the milky substance’s components.

“What?” mumbled Sam, as the last drop fell to the fennel. “Who?”

She sniffed at the air.

“Who left the garbage in? When did the fog roll in? How late is it?”

Then she remembered:

“Laura! You’re alive! Oh—” she said, realizing that Sam was spelling, “I’m sorry for interrupting you.”

“I’m done, Sam,” said Laura.

“Does that mean I can air out the room?”

“Sure, as long as you don’t mind the noise.”

“I expect to join the noise as soon as I can,” said Sam. She cocked her head, listening. “Did I just hear the Horn’s name? Is that all for us?”

“Yes, it is, or at least for the victory,” replied Laura.

“What were you doing with the spell?,” asked Sam. “Trying to put me to sleep for a thousand years? Raise my morals?”

“The first would be too easy, the second far beyond my meagre skills,” said Laura. “I was looking at this moon-water. It’s the only stuff I’ve found that the creature eats. I think I can replicate it with Earthly materials.”

“It might be easier if we just returned to the moon,” said Sam.

“Yes, it might. Sam, have you given any thought to what we should do about our discovery?”

“Only a little, Laura. It’s overwhelming. Obviously we have to return. We’ll need to be more prepared when we do, however.”

A new voice rose above the crowd’s celebrations.

“Captain Sam!” it cried. “Laura Smith! Are you all going to sleep the whole day?”

Sam smiled and walked to the window. She flung it open.

“Captain Harding, as I live and breathe. Who would have imagined you in all this?”

“Invite him up,” said Laura.

“Ask Joshua Harding to leave a celebration? It goes against his nature. Mine as well, sweet sister. Might as well ask the sun to rise in the west. I think it’s time we joined the party.”

Laura rolled her eyes.

“As you command, Captain,” she replied, at the same time thinking we will see the sun rise in the west, and in a variety of other places soon enough.

“Be right there,” said Sam, and the two went down to meet Joshua and the crowd.

A messenger came then, from General Rose. Captain Smith was requested to attend the official debarking of the battle at the Governor’s estate.

“It sounds less like a request than a command,” said Laura.

“Which makes it all the easier to ignore,” replied Sam.

“Surely you don’t want to embarass the General,” said Joshua.

“That’s exactly what I want to do, Captain Harding. I will not give this man even an iota of imagined control over me and my ship.”

“If he told you not to jump into the sun,” began Laura—

“I’d do my best to take a hot bath in the heart of it,” finished Sam.

“I—” began Captain Harding, but he was interrupted by the crowd. “Hey, that’s the Horn captain!” someone cried. Sam and Laura were whisked away on the shoulders of the crowd. The crowd yelled out whatever old sea chanties landlubbers could remember. Sam and Laura were quickly separated from Joshua and soon enough from each other. The last words they heard him say, barely above the cheers of the crowd, were to meet him at the Liberty’s Maiden for the real celebration.

Sam and Laura did make it to the Maiden, though not without a few separate parties along the way, and along the return trip. They awoke early in the morning as they usually did, but in strange beds and strange houses, next to strange, yet handsome and no doubt gallant, men. Neither Sam nor Laura learned their names and each left before their partner awoke, making their way separately to their King’s Inn apartments.

“I think I’d trade all the magic I’ve seen for one spell to rid the world of hangovers,” said Sam.

“Hangovers have their place in the world,” said Laura, and winced at the sound of her own voice. “But I see your point.”

Dionysos ruled for a week in Miami, but Sam and Laura returned to Athena after their day’s pleasure. Laura worked on duplicating the moon water, and at the same time prepared for the spellings with which to pay the Chinese miner. The “Hidden Folds” required only simple ingredients, but precision beyond normal spelling. If you were wrong, it simply didn’t work. But if you were almost wrong, you might discover a few hours later that what you put in would no longer come out. So she worked very carefully, very slowly, on the Oriental robe, preparing the silken thread and weaving it into the fabric.

The moon-milk came along much more easily. Laura quickly distilled a concoction which approximated the color of the moon-water, and which the moon-creature would drink, albeit it reluctantly.

For her part, Sam began reading the newspapers and popular novels of Southern California. The Horn had been through the docks of the coastal cities once, on the way from Portland to the Indian Nations. But they’d never been through the cities, and she’d heard about the mines only second-hand. The ki-mines were California’s most prestigious product. It was the magical dust built into the flier ships, and which, fused with the opiate oil, burned to the smoke that burned in the flier’s mind and lifted the flying ships to ride the ether.

The rumors of slave labor in the ki-mines were common. They were also beyond belief. Still, while Laura worked, Sam took notes in her mind and occasionally on paper.

On the seventh day, as the celebrations died, Laura rested. And they carried the robe to Madame Zhuong’s Curio Shoppe.

  1. Chapter 7: The Maiden and the Mob
  2. Men Not Afraid
  3. Chapter 9: King Solomin’s Mines