Across the Junn-Junn Wastes ...by
by Van ©2011


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The Honorable George Congreve, youngest daughter of the Earl of Hugo, was a damsel in distress.  Truth be told, her actual forename was Georgetta, George being one of those "nicknames" that were all the rage with the younger set these days, and she wasn't in distress as much as dishabille.  However, distress was decidedly eminent.George Congreve

Shockingly, George's parasol had been confiscated, as well as her hat, dress, bustle, stockings and boots!  This left her in camisole, knickers, and corset, a shameful state of undress appropriate only for her boudoir or the changing room of any public bath or gymnasium of which she might be a member or guest, and for the eyes of her maid or the female attendants of the aforementioned establishments, and certainly not for the gloating gaze of a somewhat elderly gentlemen not even of her formal acquaintance—if one could call a blackguard who abducted young ladies off the street and stripped and restrained them in such a disgraceful manner a gentleman.

George was seated on a comfortable, overstuffed chair with her arms raised, pulled back, and lashed behind the chair back.  Her legs were spread about a foot apart and her ankles locked in heavy wooden stocks.  The openings were tight but well-padded and she found the rather medieval apparatus to be solid and immovable.  And speaking of apparatus, complex, spring-driven, clockwork machines bristling with quills were positioned near her bare feet and exposed armpits!

"I've told you, Professor," George huffed, "if you are a Professor, I have nothing to say."

"And I've told you, Miss Congreve," the Professor responded, "you are going to divulge the primary and secondary gear ratios of the gyroscopic attitude tracking governor of Miss Plantuckett's new hoveryacht."

"So you can steal our design?" George huffed.  "It will do you no good to simply replicate the gear ratios.  Half of the individual components of the transfer assembly are eccentric, many are slip-gears, and more than a few are both.  I will tell you nothing more."

"Ah, but you will," the Professor chuckled, then threw a switch and activated the plumed machines.  Brass gears turned, flywheels spun, and the feathers began to individually twirl and flutter.  "And I assure you, I am a Professor, as well as a scientist and engineer.  I will not divulge my name or the institution at which I conduct my research, for obvious reasons.

George pulled on her bonds and eyed the feathers with dread.  Slowly—ever so slowly—they were approaching her soles, toes, and freshly shaved armpits.  "You're a Slick Git, is what you are," she muttered.

"Miss Congreve!" the Professor gasped.  "That is no way for a young lady of a prominent family to address a man of learning."

"The pin, Professor?" George said with an impatient sigh, nodding at the lapel of her captor's frock coat.

The Professor glanced at the button-sized, gold pin embossed with the capital letters "SG" beneath a stylized lightning bolt.  "Alright, I am a member of the Societie Galvanique, but I am no longer associated with the Reanimation Subcommittee to which the sobriquet 'Slick Gits' is so often applied by the more sensational press.  Dr. Frankenstein has thoroughly sullied the reputation of that particular branch of our organization.  I only perform electrical experiments on the living."

George's features were set in an expression of scathing disdain.  "Once a Slick Git, always a Slick Git."

"As well as a kidnapper and would-be scientific plagiarist," a new voice announced.

          PlantuckettA young man with long, dark hair stepped from the shadows—But wait!  As scandalous as it might seem, the newcomer was a young woman in male attire!  Her fair features and hourglass figure were feminine, without question.  She was wearing knee-boots, dusky-rose jodhpurs, a white cotton blouse, a dark butternut leather jacket, and a gray scarf.  Her long, chestnut tresses were loose around her shoulders, a superior smile graced her strong, angelic features, and the exotic, brass and glass weapon in her right hand was trained on the Professor's rather pear-shaped body.

"Bonnie!" George cried, beaming a happy, relieved smile.

"A Tessla projection pistol will have no effect on me, Miss Plantuckett," The Professor sneered.  He opened his coat to display his brown, oddly textured waistcoat.  "The leather of the electric eel, with insulated copper wires connected to the battery cells of my projection device, which is strapped to my right forearm.  If you shoot, it shall only increase the potency of my weapon."

"I see," Bonnie said, still smiling.  "How did you solve the feedback problem?"

The Professor blinked in surprise.  "Feedback problem?"

Bonnie thumbed a lever on her pistol.  "The inevitable spiral feedback that occurs when the incoming energy pulse oscillates across harmonic frequencies.  It leads to extremely violent cascade failure of the conduction matrix, every time.  That's why I abandoned the project."

"You lie!" The Professor hissed, raising his right arm.

Bonnie triggered her weapon.  Instantly, sizzling energy bridged the gap between the tip of the barrel and the Professor.  Zzzzzap!   For something like two seconds the bolt sparked with all the colors of the rainbow.  Then, the pistol went dark.

The Professor, on the other hand, continued sparking, as well as jerking and shaking.  Smoke enveloped his shuddering form—and grew thicker.  After several seconds, there was a loud snap, a flash of blue fire, and he collapsed to the floor.  It was obvious that he was dead—quite dead—cooked inside his own eel-skin waistcoat.

George took a delicate sniff of the smoky air.  "Roast pork," she intoned.

Bonnie sighed as she holstered her pistol.  "Overcooked chicken.  The arrogant fool gave me no choice."

"I'm glad you found me," George sighed.  "He was about to—ahhh!"  The feathers had reached their targets.  George giggled and writhed.  "He-he-he-he-he-he-he!  Stop it!—stop-it!—stop it!"

"I had to find you," Bonnie said as she strolled forward.  "We leave in two days, and there's no time to train a replacement.  I can't stand every watch across the entire Junn-Junn Waste."

"Turn it off!—turn it off!—turn it—"  George collapsed in her bonds.  Bonnie had thrown the master switch.  "Thank you," she gasped.

"You're welcome," Bonnie responded, then crossed her arms under her breasts and frowned.  "Did I or did I not tell you to leave the aerodrome only in the case of an emergency?  Every villain and would be villain in the city is trying to learn our secrets."

"It was an emergency," George huffed.  "Madam Rimoux' Maison du Chapeaux just received shipments from Paris and Milan.  I simply had to—No!  Stop!"

Bonnie had thumbed the switch.  The tickling machines' flywheels began spinning and the quills began quivering against George's exposed flesh, threatening to resume their flickering, spinning caresses.

"All right!  All right!" George giggled.  "Y-you were r-right and I w-was wrong!"

"How many times does this make?" Bonnie demanded.  "How many times have I saved your bacon?"

"F-five!  Five times! Please, Bonnie, p-please!"

"Seven times."  Bonnie thumbed the master switch, again, and the machines whined to a stop.

"The Secret Order of the Occult Mechanical Octopus and that Tonkanese air pirate chieftain don't count," George muttered, tugging on her bound wrists.  "We were both captured and we rescued each other."

Bonnie's thumb moved towards the switch.

"Okay, okay, you were right," George sighed.  "I should have remained on the aerodrome.  Thank you, again."

"You're welcome, again."  Bonnie began untying George's wrist bonds.  "Let's get you dressed and the both of us out of here before the constabulary arrives.  We don't have time to answer questions and fill in forms.  We have to get back and complete our final preparations."

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

Three days later, aboard GTAS BELENUS...

BELENUS was a magnificent warship.  More than 350 meters in length, she was the third largest airship in the Hibernian contingent of the airborne navy of the Grand Alliance of Iroquoia, Britannia, Hibernia, and Gaul.  Bonnie and George couldn't ask for better transport to their chosen point of departure at the edge of the Junn-Junn for their hoveryacht, GWENDOLINE.   Named after one of George's great maternal aunts (and the generous financial contribution to the expedition from that branch of the family had nothing to do with it), GWENDOLINE was safely stowed in the larger of BELENUS' two auto-gyro launching bays.

Informed observers could identify BELENUS as Hibernian, even if they were too distant to see the harp in the upper right field of the Grand Alliance naval ensign fluttering from the stern, the GTAS prefix (Great Thane's Air Ship) before the name painted on the bow, or the emerald-green and sky-blue piping on the blue-gray uniforms of any officers and crew that might be out and about on the exterior catwalks and ladders.  The warship's camouflage was a Grand Alliance standard pattern, but the specific shades of blue-gray, haze-gray, and dirty-white chosen provided the essential clue.  If doubt remained and they were clever enough to penetrate BELENUS' wardroom, chief's mess, or general mess, the presence of Guinness Stout on tap would have been the clincher.

Bonnie was seated in the wardroom lounge, reading last Sunday's editions of the Times of London, the Manhattan Ledger, and the Many Nations Intelligencer.  Virtually all sections of all three papers were devoted to coverage of the "Plantuckett-Congreve Trans-Junn-Junn Expedition."

After glowing biographies of "The Heroines of the Hour" and summaries of the technical aspects of the expedition, the cover articles went on to emphasize the importance of its purpose: to find a safe path across the Junn-Junn Wastes—as if every Luropean didn't already appreciate the promise of Luropean and Gondwanese trade that would go with success.
Globe of the Earth

Waterborne vessels that attempted the voyage to Gondwana from the west coast of Luropa attracted the attention of the infamous "mountain fish" of the Tethys Sea.  Blue water predators the size of small islands, they could swallow a scooner in a single gulp and a clipper in two.  Not even ironclad steamships-of-the-line dared to traverse equatorial waters.  Commercial airship traffic faced crippling tariffs from the Iberian kingdoms, as well as attack from air pirates operating from hidden bases on the Califarallon Islands.  The eastern sea routes were blocked by the navies and privateers of the Grand Caliphate and Phoenician Confederation, as well as aggressive pods of plesiosaurs.  Eastern air traffic faced similar difficulties, with pterosaurs substituting for their marine counterparts. 

And the direct route across the Junn-Junn?  Steam-powered land-walker expeditions simply vanished, and the handful of traumatized survivors who managed to return babbled about predatory herds of bipedal dinosaurs and warlike natives.  Air expeditions were attacked by "dragons", which naturalists speculated might be pterosaurs of unusual size.  Why the beasts attacked airships, even to the point of suicide, was yet another unknown.  In one famous account, the captain and crew of a British scout-frigate airship shadowing a full-sized Gaulish airship-of-the-line watched while something like a dozen flying reptiles, some nearly as large as the British scout, swarmed the Gaulish airbattleship and quite literally ripped it to shreds over the course of a quarter-hour.  There were no survivors.  The horrified Brits barely escaped back to Luropean airspace.  But for the superior speed of their vessel, they would have met the same fate.  Photographic evidence and the testimony of his crew exonerated the Captain in a Grand Alliance Air Admiralty Court of Inquiry.

Curiously, small airships at low attitude were ignored by the dragons, but lighter-than-air designs could not be scaled down to produce a safe and commercially viable means of transport.  They were too susceptible to high winds, especially at low altitude, and crossing the entire Junn-Junn, nonstop, with all the required fuel, water, and other stores onboard, left precious little space for sufficient cargo to justify the risk.

Bonnie and George proposed an approach that had not yet been tried.

Cavorite, or "upsidasium," as some wags called it, was a recently discovered mineral.  It exhibited what the popular press termed "anti-gravitational" properties.  Scientists fought a losing battle trying to explain that this was patently innacurate.  Electrically charged plates coated with cavorite that had been polarized in opposing planes acted to enhance inter-molecular force.  Cavorite was repulsive, not anti-gravitational.  In any case, the technology was already being integrated into aeronautical design, and Cavorite Lifting Modules graced the hulls of the newest airships, intersperced among the engine pylons.

An even more recent innovation was the "hoveryacht," an airborne vessel that relied entirely on lifting modules for support.  Without gas bags, hoveryachts were restricted to low altitude, but they were capable of great speed, especially when outfitted with advanced engines.  Current designs were limited to racing and pleasure models; but, if the right vessel was built, might even as formidable a barrier as the Junn-Junn Wastes be crossed?

That is what Bonnie and George were risking their lives to find out—and with the inspired genius the Luropean public had come to expect.  Their hoveryacht was truly novel.  The size of a coastal brigantine, GWENDOLINE was wind rather than steam powered, but its design was hardly technologically retrograde.  Bonnie and George had devised lifting modules that also acted as lifting surfaces.  As the pitch of a module's polarized slats was changed, the entire shape of the plate warped like a bird's wing.  Even more revolutionary, the rigging of the hoveryacht's two lateen sails (characterized by one reporter to be "as graceful as a pterosaur angel's wings") and the lifting module controls were integrated and automated.  The craft could be easily controlled by one person.

Bonnie turned the page and continued reading.  Thus far, all three papers had agreed...

The FINANCIAL pages:  Regular, reliable trade with Gondwana, even on the scale of luxury goods on small transport, would be quite lucrative.  The "Southern Continent of Mystery" was known for its exotic spices and rich mineral wealth.  Also, the Ashanti, Zulu, and Gambizi nations were renowned for their Art, Literature, Architecture, and the learning of their scholars, scientists, and healers.  Even tourist travel would make the owners of a hypothetical Luropa-to-Gondwana Hoveryacht Line very wealthy.

The SCIENCE/ENGINEERING pages:  GWENDOLINE incorporated technological innovations that were sure to revolutionize all manners of "semi-surface transportation."  Hoverclipper designs were speculated upon that could cross the Tethys Sea, sailing above the reach of the largest and most lethal mountain fish.  The accompanying illustrations were very flamboyant.

The STYLE pages:  Georgetta Congreve's groundbreaking traveling gowns she had designed for use on the expedition were sure to set trends for lady's summer-wear in the coming season.  No bustle?  Only a light corset?  Gauze-thin petticoats against the heat?  Revolutionary!  Already tan and pastel earthtones were all the rage, as well as lady's hats styled after pith helmets.  As always, the Honorable Georgetta was a recognized engineering and fashion genius.  As for Bonfilia Plantuckett...  Her inappropriate male attire was considered intriguing by some but far too daring by most.

Just then, George entered the wardroom.  She poured herself a mug of tea from the samovar on the side-table, then joined her partner in the lounge area, settling into an easychair.  "Anything of interest?" she inquired.

"Apparently," Bonnie answered, "my attire is 'practical but inappropriately boyish,' while your recently cropped hair is 'provocative and courageous.'  Also, clippership-sized hoveryachts would be just the thing for traversing the Tethys Sea in safety and comfort."

George rolled her eyes and shook her head.  "Coriolis storms?"

"Exactly," Bonnie replied.  The Tethys Sea was notorious for incredibly fierce storms, especially during the summer months.  "I suppose if one's 'hoverclipper' survived a Tethys Tempest, one might persuade a friendly mountain fish to hold the hull in its jaws while one replaced every mast and sail from the ship's infinite stores."

"Quite," George agreed.  "Ready for tomorrow?"

Bonnie folded the paper and dropped it on her lap, then smiled.  "Ready!"

George raised her mug in salute.  "Across the Junn-Junn Wastes!" she cried.

"Huzzah!" Bonnie responded, and the partners laughed.

George sipped her mug, again, and frowned.  "With all due respect to our gracious hosts, this tea tastes like tar."

"Which is why I only drink the Guinness," Bonnie replied, lifting what was left of the pint on the side-table to her right and taking a sip of her own.

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

Sunrise, the next day...

GWENDOLINE was ready for launch.  Bonnie and George were on the elevated quarterdeck above her stern with Bonnie at the wheel and George ready to throw the levers that would release the mooring lines.  Bonnie was in her usual knee-boots, rose jodhpurs, white blouse, and gray scarf, all of tropical weight, of course.  Her butternut jacket was rolled and tucked in the rigging, within easy reach.  George was in one of her new desert-ready traveling gowns, a charming mix of coral and ecru.  A pith helmet with a pair of her trademark polychromatic, stereoptical, polarizing, and magnifying goggles was atop her head.

BELENUS was holding its position, hovering with idling engines several thousand feet above the chaparral in the still dawn air.
  The rising sun cast long shadows, highlighting the rugged terrain and what to Luropean eyes used to lush, green forests would characterize as stunted, sickly, and widely dispersed trees and shrubs.  The southernmost border of Gaul was about midway to the horizon, but there were no visible clues as to its precise location.  The altitude and distance was far too great for the eyes of the bridge watch or lookouts to make out the regularly spaced markers required by treaty.

Captain Seamus Delany, BELENUS' Commanding Officer, watched from a nearby catwalk as the deck crew made final preparations to release the docking clamps.  Four sets of clamps were involved.  They would normally be securing four of BELENUS' complement of auto-gyro fighters.  The fighters in question, the latest variants of the famous P-7 Harpy, were currently lashed to tie-downs on the top landing deck and CAPT Delany would be very happy once they were back in their proper places and ready for instant launch—not that he was anxious to be rid of his guests.  The famous "Genius Girls" had been perfect guests, but no Captain wanted two thirds of his quick-reaction fighter protection unavailable, even in peacetime.

BELENUS' Master Chief and a squad of Air Marines were at their Captain's side, ready to pay the departing expedition the honors due.  All were in dress uniform (summer), whites, in the case of the Captain and Chief, and bottle-green blouses and white trousers in the case of the Air Marines.

Captain Delany unrolled a parchment.  "On behalf of the Monarchs and President of the Member Nations of the Grand Alliance, the Senate of the Grand Alliance; and the Parliaments, Congresses, Moots, and Councils of the Member Nations, greetings.  On this auspicious dawn..."  He paused and glanced at the brightening landscape below.  "Uh, I'm supposed to read the entire proclamation, but 'auspicious dawn' will be 'auspicious mid morning' by the time I reach the signatures."  The crew laughed, except the Air Marines, of course.  Air Marines on duty never laugh.  Captain Delany rolled the parchment and slid it into the leather message tube held ready by the Master Chief.  "I'll let you read this at your leisure."  He then pulled a message flimsy from his side pocket.  "Be that as it may, the Great Thane, himself, has composed a poem to commemorate the occasion and to speed you on your way.  That, I most certainly will read."

Bonnie and George exchanged a carefully polite glance.  The Hibernian monarch was a figurehead, like Britain's Queen, but this particular Grand Thane was also a recognized bard, in the long tradition of Hibernian bards.  He was also considered to be slightly mad, also in the long tradition of Hibernian bards.

Captain Delany cleared his throat and in his ringing Command Voice began to read.  "There once was a lass named Plantuckett—"

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

Howls of laughter echoed from BELENUS' docking bay as GWENDOLINE dropped towards the ground.  Her cheeks crimson, Bonnie adjusted the levers beside the wheel that controlled the pitch of the lifting modules.  Their descent slowed as the masts and yards extended and the sails deployed.

"You should be flattered," George suggested as she stowed the nearest mooring line.  "A love sonnet from the Great Thane, himself.  I imagine it will be a popular drinking song across the Alliance before the week is out."

"Shut it," Bonnie huffed.  "Stow the other lines or I'll keelhaul you."

"Aye-aye, Captain," George chuckled.

BELENUS was a rapidly diminishing, streamlined shape, above and astern.  Its splinter-pattern and counter-shaded camouflage was less effective than usual, thanks to the bright, direct rays of the sun, but she was still a lethal and increasingly ghostly presence.  The airship was executing a stately turn to port, and activity on her top-deck suggested Captain Delany had already ordered the return of the four Harpys to their proper berths.

GWENDOLINE reached her normal cruising altitude of a hundred meters and continued south.  The wind quickened and Bonnie adjusted the set of the sails, triggering winches that reeled in the sheets until the canvas stopped luffing.  The hoveryacht surged forward, the lift pylons automatically compensating for the force against the sails and keeping the deck horizontal.  Quiet, regular clicks vibrated through the hull as small, spinning wind turbines automatically rewound the springs that powered the deck winches.

Bonnie and George grinned at one another.  They were off to a good start.  Bonnie rapped the polished oak of the wheel housing.  Knock on wood, she thought.

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes

The Sand Amazon raiding party had attacked a Tyrrhenian plantation across the supposed border and was returning to the Junn-Junn with three captives and a dozen dinocamel loads of concentrated wine.  A troop of Tyrrhenian armored land-walker cavalry had tried to pursue, but after three days, when the dinosaur mounted amazons reached the broken fringe of the badlands, the clunking, clanking, steam-powered behemoths had fired a few wild shots and turned back.

Camped for the night in a long, deep cave in the side of a small butte, the female warriors fed their reptilian mounts strips of dried jerky and prepared their own meals around small fires.  The captives, two strapping lads and a girl, all not much older than eighteen, watched their captors with wide, frightened eyes.  Their wrists were bound behind their backs, their ankles lashed together, and gags of rough cloth filled and cleaved their mouths.

The amazons were dressed in boots, loincloths, and scraps of leather armor.  Their strong, athletic bodies were deeply tanned from the tropical sun.  All were armed with what were either long knives or short swords, as well as pistols, carbines, crossbows, and lances.  The coiled lassos they had used to capture their prisoners hung from their belts or the horns of their saddles.  Stripes of blue and purple paint framed their eyes in narrow masks, the mark of dino-riding warriors among their kind.

Two amazons, a blonde and a brunette, approached the captives.  The brunette pointed to the female's ripped and soiled gown.  "Pale skin," she observed.  "New cloth.  Not frayed and worn.  She owner's daughter.  She work hard for one, two years, then we sell her back to her father."

"Or maybe she decide to join tribe," the blonde chuckled.  "Maybe she not weak and spoiled."

"Maybe," the brunette shrugged, then pointed at the young men.  "Field hands.  Patched trousers.  Rough boots.  Make many strong babies before we let them go."

The blonde nodded.  "Strip all three after they eat.  They might as well get used to it.  Then, tie them tight for the night, and make sure they can't roll around and free each other."

"No jûb-jûb?"

"The old women decide who gets the males' seed, you know that."  The blonde amazon eyed the terrified, helpless young woman.  "Anyone want jûb-jûb with that one, no problem; but no damage.  Old women train her to make proper jûb-jûb, and old women like start with undamaged captive."

The female prisoner was crying and the blonde knelt and lifted her chin.  "Stop that," she ordered, with surprising gentleness.  "You not be tortured unless you try escape or not work hard."

"Chieftess!" an amazon called from the cave entrance.

The blonde stood and strode to the entrance.  The caller pointed to the west.

Far in the distance, a strange, pale object was drifting across the broken horizon.   The blond chieftess pulled a spyglass from her belt, snapped it open, and held it to her right eye.  "Winged airship," she intoned, then handed the telescope to the guard.

"Too far to see flag," the auburn-haired guard muttered.  "Too far to see weapons."

"Corda!" the chieftess shouted, and a third amazon appeared, this one with black, straight hair.  The chieftess pointed at the intruder.  "Ride through the night to Spire Rock and send flashy-flashy signal to Queen.  Tell her visitor coming.  Small airship.  Wings but no gasbag.  Take remount and ride double-quick.  Look out for big honkers.  They like to hunt dry stream beds at night."

Corda nodded and returned to the cave.  "Big honkers," she muttered under her breath.  "Tell me something I don't know."

The chieftess smiled and returned to watching the pale airship ride the breeze.  It was still too far to make out much detail.

 END of...

Across the Junn-Junn Wastes