A Mysterious Wreck
Theodore Emelior Beem’s life was that of the solitary male, so much so that a young woman once said of him, “Coming in third with Theodore might have been palatable, if it were not for the fact that I would have been third behind his reference books and his junk.”
When Corbin saw the wrecked airship in the West Side Yards on the outskirts of Gearford, he immediately thought of “that librarian.” Theodore Beem wasn’t exactly a friend, but more of a peculiar acquaintance and more importantly someone who was willing to pay for the odd piece of information. A librarian at the Gearford Science and Technology Library, Theodore had many strange interests and was a talented amateur inventor, but had a particular fascination with flying machines. The last time they bumped into one another at a junk shop in Mayberry, Theodore told him that he would pay for any leads on unusual airship parts.
Tired after a difficult repair job in a local textile mill, Corbin returned home walking past the West Side Yards, when he saw it. Several carriages had pulled into the Yards. Each of the carriages was covered with a tarp, but two of them carried oversized objects that could have only been the broken shell of an airship and yet they looked different, or at least peculiar to his layman’s eye.
“It wasn’t someth’n from Antiford or even a Prush, I know that much,” recounted Corbin.
“And you say the metal on the ship seemed different?” asked Theodore.
“It seemed fragile and was light, but it was stronger than all that. Even though it was ridiculous thin and fragile looking, they used it for the support struts,” replied Corbin, “The wood work was also finer than any that I’d ever seen on an Antifordian ship.”
“How about the engines?” asked Theodore.
“I wasn’t cataloguing the damned thing,” snapped Corbin, “Anyways, that’s the thing. There were men guarding the wreck. At least two nasty looking fellows and thems armed. No ways, could I have gotten any closer. I’d expect the ship will be likely getting crushed, so you’d best hurry.”
One of the interesting features of the Yards and something of a landmark in its own right was “the Gear.” The operator of the Yards, one Redbeard McLeod, had fashioned an enormous metal gear out of hardened steel. “The Gear” was steam operated and was part of a larger contraption that crushed and compressed large metal objects, some over twenty feet long, into five-foot compressed cubes. When famously asked about the point of this exercise, McLeod said with a toothy grin, “I suppose I just like crush’n things.”
Listening to Corbin’s account of what he had seen, Theodore paused in thought. It was an open secret that important people often used the West Side Yards to rid themselves of large inconvenient things. It helped that the Yards were actually located on unincorporated land on the western outskirts of Gearford. Sometimes, it was a carriage, occasionally a landship, and it was even rumored that someone had once brought part of a building for disposal. Occasionally, the people contracting this work were technocrats and perhaps more frequently they were criminals. The one thing they all had in common was a desire to remain anonymous and the need to make something disappear. It was said that Gearford’s darker elements appreciated McLeod’s discretion and his singular lack of curiosity. McLeod’s only condition was that any dead bodies be taken out beforehand, because of the mess it created. Then again, if the customer paid enough, McLeod could be convinced to turn a blind eye to even that. In any case, eventually the question became moot, because after they were crushed, the metal hulks from the Yards were taken to the furnace where they were melted down,
After Corbin finished, he looked at Theodore who appeared deep in thought. All of the facts, seemed to show that someone was looking to make an airship disappear. If Theodore wanted to get a look at the thing, he needed to hurry and needed help.
“Well Corbin,” smiled Theodore, “What would you say about maybe earning an extra few Ciam?”
Corbin pulled up to the Western Yards in a paddocks carriage towing a large load of junk. Using a piece of metal scrap, he banged loudly on the gate.
“Hey there! Anyone home? I got a job!”
After a few minutes of yelling, two men, armed with shotguns, opened the door.
“What the hell do you want?” asked the larger of two men, a brute with a massive beard. “The Yards are closed!”
“Uh well, that’s the thing,” answered Corbin, “My boss asked that I bring this load of garbage to the Yards.”
“I don’t care what your fucking boss asked. Take your paddock and clear out.”
“Uh man, you know brother. . .Can I call you brother?” whispered Corbin conspiratorially, “My boss won’t like it if I come back with a full cart. Can I just drop this off for McLeod?”
“What the hell!? Are you stupid?!” yelled the smaller of the men who wore a bowler hat, “Are you asking for a beating?!”
For what seemed like forever, but what was probably no more than five minutes, Corbin talked to the two men. He stuttered and acted confused, all the while, the guards began to lose what little patience they had. It was a dangerous game, but one Corbin played well. He just hoped that Theodore was making haste to get a look at his precious airship.
On the other side of the junkyard, Theodore had already entered through a broken part of the wall surrounding the Yards. McLeod was nowhere to be seen. He could be stoking the fires to get a good head of steam for the Gear. Nevertheless, Theodore’s eye’s widened. The airship was conspicuously positioned in a clearing on a runway leading up to the Gear.
Pulling off the tarp, Theodore gasped. The ship which was nothing more than a hulk, was still beautiful. Corbin was also right. The metal frame was a super light, but exceptionally strong alloy. Raising his eyebrows, he saw that the airship had been caught in a hail of gunfire. None of the bullets seemed to penetrate the hull, but in a few places, there was evidence that larger caliber weapons were used. Poking his head under the tarp Theodore saw a bloody mess. It was enough blood and gore to convince him the crew was likely long dead.
Looking at the ornate wooden trim, it occurred to him this must have been a Titanian vessel. The Titanians were nothing if not craftsmen and this would also explain the light alloy used on the vessel.
Something suddenly caught his attention. Almost simultaneously, Theodore heard the voices of the men at the gate rise to a crescendo. He also heard Redbeard McLeod’s voice booming over the others. Clearly, they were losing patience with Corbin. Theodore had to hurry.
Pulling back another tarp, Theodore looked further into the shell of the hull and almost immediately his mouth fell open.
“Well what do we have here?” whispered Theodore.
When McLeod started walking to the gate, Corbin knew that the game was over.
“Get the hell out of here and away from my gate!” yelled McLeod.
As the men began closing the door and McLeod turned around, Corbin took this as his cue. If Theodore wasn’t already leaving, there would be hell to pay. The last place Corbin wanted to be was anywhere within 500 yards of the Yards, especially if those men or McLeod realized that they had been played.
Suddenly, he heard yelling and the blast of a shotgun.
“Damn it Theodore. You’re getting slow,” muttered Corbin as he depressed the accelerator. He quickly sped away from the Yards and made the first left.
Almost thirty minutes later an out of breath Theodore met Corbin at their rendezvous. Theodore held a large basket covered with canvas. Corbin wondered if it was his imagination, but the canvas was rustling and small noises could be heard.
“Please tell me, whatever you got there was worth it,” said Corbin.
“Almost definitely worth it,” answered Theodore distractedly. He carefully lowered the basket to the ground and lifted away the canvas.
“How are we doing my darlings?”asked Theodore.
Corbin’s mouth dropped. Sitting in the basket was a black cat and what appeared to be her five kittens, who were only a few weeks old. There were a few tuxedo ones, a white one, a black one and a small little calico with a fox tail. Each of the kittens wore a leather collar with a small round silver charm.
“You got to be shitting me. What the hell is this?” whispered Corbin.
“They’re cats Corbin,” replied Theodore playing with the kittens who were stumbling over one another.
“I can see they’re fucking cats. I thought you went into the yards for an airship. I risked my life talking to two brutes, one of them didn’t have a neck. They could have shot my fucking head off, and you’re telling me, that during all that time, you were rescuing cats?”
“Well, a mother and five kittens, Corbin, and they probably would have died had I not acted. Also truth be told, they aren’t just any cats. Do you know what kind of cats these are?”
“Well, they look a bit furry,” said Corbin uncertainly.
“Yes indeed. These are Lesser Titanian Forest cats, a much sought after breed of medium to long hair cat.”
“And how the hell did they end up here?”
“Quite right. You were absolutely correct before, this was a unique airship. Not at all from Antiford. It was a Titanian vessel and no doubt a beauty, before she was shot to hell.”
As the kittens played around their mother, Theodore recounted his search of the airship. Theodore told Corbin how he found the mother cat with a litter of kittens in a basket, wrapped up in a blanket. Thankfully the kittens were sleeping, otherwise, they might have complicated things. Along with the cats, Theodore found a bloody signet ring with the Titanian seal. Energized with the exultation of having just had a near death experience, Theodore excitedly offered background on the Lesser Titanian Forest cats. They were often bred and raised by the wealthy of Titania. In fact, and this explains their presence on the airship, Titanian Forest Cats are also thought to be good luck and because of this many Titanian ships carried them part of their ship’s complement.
“Well, clearly they didn’t bring enough luck to the crew. Poor bastards.”
Only partly paying attention to Corbin, Theodore was playing with the kittens. The smallest one, a calico with a white tipped tail batted at him and tried to wrestle while playfully biting his hand.
“Aren’t you a fierce little fox,” smiled Theodore.
“So, Theodore, are you going to sell the lot? These must be valuable right? Probably could get a good price for’m?” asked Corbin eagerly.
Theodore, looked at Corbin for a briefest moment and then back at the kittens who were like little puff balls stumbling over one another. “No, I don’t think so,” thought Theodore.