Rallying Cry/Last Vessel of Atlantis….

24 Apr

Another release from GSP Author of the Week: Steven R Southard.

Rallying Cry/Last Vessel of Atlantis by Steven R. Southard

Two adventure stories packaged together! In “Rallying Cry,” an aimless youth meets two old geezers who spin bizarre war stories. They tell of a secret World War I regiment in France with ship-sized helicopters and mechanized walking tanks. Just as an inspiring shout can move soldiers to action, perhaps all Kane really needs to turn his life around is a rallying cry. In “Last Vessel of Atlantis,” a ship captain and his crew of explorers return to find Atlantis gone. While facing violent savages, braving fierce storms, and solving internal disputes, they must somehow ensure their advanced Atlantean civilization is not lost forever.


Rallying Cry

Kane Jones felt like he’d entered a video game set in some bygone era. Two geezers looked up at him from where they sat, each in a wheelchair, playing cards at an old oak table. Each face bore more wrinkles than Kane had ever seen on just two people. He wondered whether dinosaurs had manufactured their radio: a wooden box with large knobs and a bent coat hanger sticking out. A news program blared from its speakers. A film of dust covered the TV on its credenza as well as its remote. Few decorations adorned the room, except a number of framed family photographs.

“Maintenance,” Kane repeated loudly. He’d used his key to enter the room only after knocking and shouting for several minutes from outside the door. “Someone called about a leaking sink faucet.”

“Eh?” the old fossil on the right asked. He looked like he might once have been stocky, but that was before time had collapsed his body.

“He’s here to fix my sink!” the one on the left shouted at him. That man’s face and body looked too thin and cadaverous to be alive, but Kane decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Less than a month into his term,” the voice on the radio said, “President George W. Bush spoke today to troops in Fort Stewart, in Georgia . . .” The man on the left switched off the radio. 

“Are you Mr.—” Kane checked his clipboard and frowned. “Loiseau?” He pronounced it Louie-seeow.

The man on the left nodded. “I’m Loiseau.” He spoke the name as Loo-zoh with a fluid French smoothness Kane knew he’d never master.

The room had a dry staleness to it, as if the air was seldom used for respiration. Kane felt he was aging by the second, as if he would walk out ten years older after a half hour in the room.

“I’ll be as quick as I can, sir,” Kane said, and really meant it. His last job of the day, only Loiseau’s sink stood between him and many hours of playing Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn. He took his toolkit into the bathroom.

. . . And laughed. In place of the sink’s cold faucet knob, a rusted pair of vice grips clamped the valve shaft. Ugly, but serviceable, Kane thought. Beneath the sink, layers of gray duct tape coated the hot supply pipe’s shut-off valve. While he watched, a drip formed on an edge of the tape, then dropped into a half-full bucket on the floor.

The old coot had tried to fix it himself, Kane thought, amused. Then he realized something. Most of the fifty residents of the Excelsior Nursing Home in Baton Rouge called Maintenance from time to time. Indeed, Kane suspected two old ladies of breaking things on purpose just to watch him work. But there were two rooms he’d never been in during his three years on the job. This was one, and next door was the other. The other card-playing fogy probably lived there.

A whirring sound startled him. Kane turned to see Mr. Loiseau sitting in his motorized wheelchair, blocking the bathroom door.

“Admiring my work, are you not?” His smile accentuated his facial wrinkles. His voice sounded like Jacques Cousteau must have on his deathbed.

“Out of the way with you, Marin,” the voice of the other man came from around the corner. “I can’t see the boy at all.” His French accent was even thicker and more filled with gravel.

Great, Kane thought, and sighed. So that’s how it’s going to be. Both old codgers looking over my shoulder.

With their wheelchairs, they jockeyed into position so the near-deaf one could look past Loiseau to see Kane’s work. Kane knew better than to ask if they had something better to do. With no polite way to avoid their scrutiny, he set to work. Since his toolkit contained spare faucet knobs and shut-off valves, Kane anticipated a quick repair.

After a period of silence, Loiseau spoke. “You have a knack for this. Are you a professional plumber?”

Kane shook his head. “Nope. Just licensed for general maintenance.”

“Ah,” Loiseau nodded. “That is good, your ability to repair many things. With such skills, you will have a bright future.”

A bright future, Kane thought. He’d never given any thought to the future. Too uncertain; anything could happen. No point in planning for it. “To me, the future means a fixed sink,” he said as he wrapped Teflon tape around the replacement valve’s threads, “me out of your way, and you two getting back to your card game.”

“Eh?” asked the one behind Loiseau.

“He said,” Loiseau winced as he turned his head, “his future is as limited as ours.”

“Now, wait. I didn’t say that,” Kane looked at Loiseau. He must think I’ll amount to nothing.

“Not so?” Loiseau gave his wrinkly smile. “Tell me, young man, what is your name?”

“Kane. Kane Jones.”

“Tell me, Monsieur Jones, about your plans. Where will you be in five years? Ten? Will you be in charge of all the maintenance men here? Will you be manager of the Home?”

Kane frowned, unable to understand. Five years? He shook his head. “No, no. I’m not gonna still be working here. It’s just a job; I’ve gotta have money, to . . .” To keep hitting the bars and buying the latest video games, he thought, knowing how lame that would sound out loud.

“You have a goal in life, no?” Loiseau’s eyes searched his own. “A passion for something?”

Kane didn’t appreciate the prying tone and didn’t feel like spilling out his life story to these ancient strangers. Not that there was much to tell. He tightened the valve in place with his wrench. “Look, no offense, guys, but I’m twenty years old. I don’t need goals or passions. You probably don’t remember what it was like to be my age, but . . .” Right away he regretted putting it like that, but they’d annoyed him and he wanted to end the conversation.

“It’s true I am old now. I never thought I’d breathe the air of 2001. And yet I still have the memories of being young, memories as clear as a glass of white wine.” Loiseau seemed to be staring across decades. “The Great War was on, and I served in the Regiment.”

A gasp came from the other man, who’d cocked his head so his ear was near Loiseau. “You’re not going to tell him about the Regiment! They ordered us to keep it secret forever.”

Kane had heard old men telling war stories before, but such tales were never as good as the video games. He tested the hot water flow and checked for leaks.

“What can they do to us now, Yvet?” Loiseau asked. “Send us into battle again?” He laughed, which led to a short coughing fit. “Monsieur Jones might just benefit from hearing it.”

Fishing around in his toolkit, Kane found a matching faucet handle. He checked his watch. “Look, I’ll be all done here in two minutes. You don’t have to—”

“Very well. Tell him if you must,” the one called Yvet said as he crossed his arms. 

“But I warned you against it. It’s plain the lad doesn’t want to hear it. Moreover, he’ll never believe you.”

Loiseau put a hand to his chin. “It was July seventeenth of 1915. I served in the Jules Verne Regiment aboard the French aeronef Albatros.”

Machine gun shells whizzed around me. Some bounced off the iron shielding, but most lodged in the wooden hull. From above came the monstrous humming of thirty seven propeller blades, each mounted atop a long shaft. The shafts differed in height, taller ones amidships and along the centerline, with shorter ones at bow and stern and outboard along the sides, giving our vessel a passing resemblance to an ocean-going clipper. Instead, these propellers kept her aloft. Albatros cruised as a clipper of the clouds.

I manned the number three gun mount on the starboard side, pouring all the ammo I could into a gigantic German Zeppelin. The enemy airship had appeared just as we’d completed our bombing mission against a German armaments factory. I had a poor angle for shooting, since our helmsman steered toward the enemy airship. I aimed at the Zeppelin’s gunners when they came in view, and also at the gas envelope when that was all I could see.





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