The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 213: Did You Realize What Day It Was?

April 1927

The fence gave way with a crash of tearing metal as the zombies forced their way onto the field. Some of the creatures went down, tangled in the wreckage. The others shambled forward, queuing up politely whenever they had to negotiate some obstacle.

"Cerebral tissue!" they grunted. "Cerebral tissue!"

"At least they're comparatively well-mannered," observed Jenkins.

"True," said Captain Everett. "I hate to imagine what matters might have been like if this had been a French or German colony."

"Excuse me," Davies interrupted from behind the Lewis gun. "Would we happen to have another drum of ammunition? This one seems to be exhausted."

Abercrombie opened his pack and rummaged through its contents. "Here ye go," he replied, "but this is the last one."

"Oh, bother!" exclaimed the marine. He fitted the magazine, took aim, then swept his weapon across the wave of undead monsters. Dozens fell, but this did little to slow the rest of the advancing horde.

Jenkins nodded thoughtfully as the weapon clicked empty. "I doubt we can accomplish anything more here, Captain," he observed. "Perhaps we should retire to the ship."

"A sound suggestion," said Everett. "After you, gentleman."

The airmen strolled toward the mooring mast at a fast but dignified pace. Behind them, the zombies, slowed by their lack of a functioning nervous system and the need to maintain their attire -- some things endured even across the abyss of death -- tsked in frustration. As the party neared the mast, they saw the lift descending to meet them.

"It appears Iverson's spotted us," Jenkins remarked. "And I must say the sooner we're aboard ship, the..."

"Watch out!" shouted Davies as a trio of undead burst from the door of the customs shack. Two went down to marine's gun butt and the captain's service pistol. The third knocked Jenkins to the ground, then paused to tuck a napkin into its collar before it began its grisly feast.

"No ye don't!" cried Abercrombie. With a roar, the Scotsman leapt forward, lifted the unholy monster from its feet, and flung it against a concrete piling. The creature twitched fitfully, gestured for the check, and expired -- to the extent that the concept was applicable to a being in its situation.

"Goodness, Abercrombie!" exclaimed Davies, "you're bleeding! Did the thing bite you, condemning you to an inevitable death, after which you will rise from the grave to consume the flesh of the living?"

"Nae," said the rigger. "English zombies would never be so impolite as tae gnaw on their prey. It just poked me with a dinner fork."

"Right. Wherever did those creatures come from?"

"I imagine they were customs officers," Jenkins speculated. "Some bureaucrats are undead to begin with."

A short time later, the Flying Cloud was circling above the village while her crew gazed down at the devastation. By now, the last few pockets of survivors had been overwhelmed. Zombies wandered aimlessly through the ruins, their movements a remarkably civilized parody of life. Everett studied the scene with resignation.

"It appears that the entire population has succumbed to the contagion," he noted. "I do not believe this will look good on our report. Is there any word from the other stations?"

"Sydney and Melbourne are silent," said Jenkins. "The operator at Brisbane reported that the creatures were clawing their way through the windows before he went off the air. According to Phelps, they're still holding out at Cairns.

"How could he tell?" asked Sarah. "Michaelson resembles a zombie even at the best of times."

"Gentlemen, and lady," said Everett, "there may be some truth to this observation, but it has no immediate relevance to the matter at hand. We need to find some way to stop this contagion from spreading before all of humanity is consumed."

"How d'ye stop an army of undead?" asked Abercrombie.

"We could gather the survivors in fortified enclaves in a desperate attempt to preserve some remnant of our civilization," suggested Iverson.

"We could capture some of the creatures and make a futile attempt to find a cure before we became infected ourselves," suggested Jenkins.

"We could recite the Ritual of Vitality," said Sarah.

"The Ritual of Vitality?" asked several people simultaneously.

The island girl took in their expressions and chuckled. "Of course!" she replied. "My people use it every time there's a zombie plague. Unless it strikes someone we don't particularly like."

"And where might we find this `Ritual'?" Abercrombie asked.

"It's inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Roamairu, hidden in the depths of the jungle on the southern shores of our island."

"This sounds like a constructive goal," said Everett. "Mister Iverson, set a course for Sarah's Island. We will watch the crew for symptoms of the affliction, but we should be safe from undead monsters as long as we're aloft."

Davies was at his post in the upper lookout station when the bat landed beside him. As he watched, the creature blurred, expanded, and changed shape, to become a well-dressed gentleman clad in garments of a previous century.

The marine sighed in exasperation. "Bloody hell," he exclaimed, "you wouldn't happen to be a vampire?"

The figure gave a modest shrug. "We prefer to think of ourselves as vitality-challenged individuals."

"But it's daytime," Davies objected. "I thought you fellows crumbled to dust in the purifying rays of the sun."

"That used to be our tradition," said the creature, "but we found that this had certain operational disadvantages. Now we just sparkle."

"That seems rather ostentatious."

"I suppose it is," the vampire admitted. "One of our American cousins came up with the idea, and you know how tasteless those Colonials can be."

"I assume you're going to use mental powers to overpower me," said Davies, "after which you'll drain my blood, condemning me to a hellish eternity of living death, then board our ship to slay my companions."

"That was my intention, yes."

"Suppose I just shoot you with this machine gun?"

The vampire gave the weapon a dismissive glance. "Bullets can't harm me," he replied. "As I'm sure you're aware, creatures of my ilk are immune to any mundane armaments."

"This may be true," Davies observed, "but the impact of the rounds will almost certainly knock you from your rather precarious perch atop the hull."

The vampire grinned. "Not if I use my ability to turn into mist so that the bullets pass through me."

"Turn to mist," Davies snorted. "That's just some ignorant Central European myth."

"Not at all," said the vampire, "as I shall proceed to demonstrate. He blurred again, changing into a cloud of vapor that was swept away by the slipstream.

Davies nodded in satisfaction, then keyed the intercom. "Captain, this is the Upper Lookout Station. We've got vampires."

"Do you require any assistance?" came the reply.

"Not at the moment. The one I encountered did not appear to be a particularly imaginative representative of the breed. Or unbreed, as the case may be. But I can make out quite a large cloud of bats behind us. We might wish to take steps to deal with them."


Abercrombie frowned from his station at the elevator wheel. "Vampires," he grumbled. "How will we defend ourselves? We dinnae have any wood stakes aboard, an' Pierre will only have a limited supply of garlic."

"This may not be necessary," said Everett. "Jenkins, what is the maximum speed in level flight of family Desmodontinae?"

The signalman leafed through their copy of the Almanac until he found the relevant section. "Male representatives of Desmodus Rotundus have been observed to forage at airspeeds between 6 and 17 miles per hour. Females may be somewhat slower. This entry does not specify a top speed, but no known members of order Chirpotera can fly faster than 60 miles per hour."

"A fortunate limitation," said Everett, "Mister Iverson, ring for full power on all three engines."

The lieutenant reached for the engine telegraphs. "Full power on One, Two, and Three," he acknowledged. Behind them, the drone of the engines grew louder. Slowly, the airspeed indicator began to creep upwards. Everett watched until the needle passed 53 knots, then nodded.

"Good work, gentlemen," he noted. "That's one problem solved."

It was evening by the time Flying Cloud reached Sarah's island. To the west, the Sun was dipping toward the horizon. To the east, a glimmer of light marked the spot where the full moon would rise. Following Sarah's directions, Captain Everett brought the airship to a stop above a clearing near the island's southern shore. Some distance beyond this, they could make out traces of stonework beneath the canopy of trees.

"I take it that's the Temple," said Everett.

"Yes. The Ritual of Vitality is engraved right next to the Ritual of Esophageal Spasms. Be sure you don't get the two confused."

"Quite. Jenkins and Abercrombie, report to the Transporter Room, Mister Iverson, you will lead the party."

"Yes, sir."

A short time later, the hoist platform was touching down in the center of the clearing. The three airmen disembarked and studied their surroundings. Abercrombie examined the jungle with some misgiving.

'It looks like a guid place for more m�naomha samhanachs," he grumbled. "So far we've had had zombies and vampires. What'll it be next? Devils? Werewolves?"

"The latter should not be serious concern," Jenkins said confidently.

"How can you be certain?"

"Why should they poise a threat?" said the signalman. "After all, we're werewolves too."

"What?" exclaimed Iverson. "How is this be possible?"

"It should be obvious," said Jenkins. "Everyone a werewolf bites or scratches turns into a werewolf. Werewolves can only be killed by silver bullets. This means that in the absence of firearms, the number of werewolves can only increase. But gunpowder didn't come into widespread use in hand-weapons until the Fourteenth Century. Before that, there was nothing to stop the spread of lycanthropy. Therefore we must all be werewolves."

Iverson glanced toward the east, where the moon was rising above the horizon. "Why doesn't anyone notice?" he asked skeptically.

"That's because we all turn into werewolves at the same time, so we don't have any standard of comparison," Jenkins observed as the Change swept over the three men, transforming them into monstrous hybrids of man and wolf.

"I suppose this is superficially plausible," snarled Iverson through bared fangs, "but surely we would observe circumstantial evidence in the form of paw prints, disarranged furniture, slain domestic animals, and the like."

"Perhaps," Jenkins snarled in reply, "but I imagine these things have become so familiar that we accept them as normal."

"What are you writing?" asked Sarah.

Iverson looked up to see the island girl watching him from the doorway. "It's a plot for a radio drama," he told her. "Would you like to read it?"

"I'd love to! But your pen is upside down."

"What?" spluttered Iverson. "How could it possibly..."

Sarah raised an eyebrow. "Look at the date, John."

Iverson studied his calendar, which he'd only just changed to a new month that morning. It took him a moment to realize the implications. "Oh..." he said," ....yes... right..."

The island girl smiled. "April Fools!"

Next week: And We'll Have Fun Fun Fun...

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