The Off-Worlder Chronicles: Terror Australis – Part Two

4

 

A faded, but well kept, ambulance pulled up between the back of Dom’s house and the barn, scattering a brood of chickens. Doctor Thomas Mitchum stepped out of his van for his second house call since leaving Ried in Dom’s cottage. He collected his bag from the passenger seat, closed the door, and headed toward the back door when he heard his friend’s voice call out from down near the barn. Mitchum waved his hand and went down to greet Dom and Nicholas who rode up from the lower paddocks.

“Dominic?” Mitchum reached up and shook his friend’s hand.

“Before you ask, we’ve just been riding.” Dom dismounted his horse and ignored the doctor’s expression.

The doctor shook his head in weariness, something his slightly drooped shoulders only emphasized. Thomas Mitchum was the town’s senior physician and a combat veteran like Dominic and Jack. However, his battles weren’t that of a frontline soldier; they were those fought in the mobile triage hospitals.

His constant expression, shoulder-length gray hair and neatly trimmed goatee, gave him a European appearance. Within the doctor’s aged and lined face glinted a pair of bright emerald eyes, which defied his age and the façade of constant fatigue. They also hinted at a sharp, keen intellect beyond his sixty-plus years. Many people considered the doctor brusque, occasionally a little recalcitrant, and not much of a conversationalist – an opinion he never denied or chose to discredit.

“How are you today?” Mitchum asked Nicholas.

“I’m okay,” Nicholas replied quietly after he dismounted.

“Good to hear it.” Mitchum patted the teenager’s shoulder. He turned to Dom. “I had a house call near Maidenwell, so I thought I’d drop in to check on how things are going.”

“You’ve been down to the cottage then?”

“Not yet,” the doctor waved a fly away, “but I spoke with Abbey earlier on the phone. She told me our friend is healing remarkably well. A little too well by her description.” He followed the men and horses into the barn before the three of them headed for the house.

Inside the dining room, the doctor sat in front of Dom and lifted his shirt. He inspected the dressings over the cuts inflicted by Nicholas – during a violent psychotic attack on the night they brought Ried to the farm. “Well, they all seem to be healing nicely,” Mitchum announced. “How are you feeling otherwise?”

“I’m okay.”

“Are you?” Mitchum noted his friend’s tone, but he had no intention of allowing Dom the last word. “Regardless, I still insist you refrain from any heavy or excessive activity.”

“For how long?”

“Until I damn well say otherwise, and those damn stitches come out.” He then turned to Nicholas. “How are the cramps and nausea going?”

“The cramps are mostly gone, and I only feel like throwing up when I first get up…” Nicholas stared down at the floor, unable to face the doctor. “But this morning wasn’t so bad.”

Dr. Mitchum scrutinized Nicholas. The physical signs from the drug-induced episode seemed to be healing. Most of the bruises from Molly’s husband had lost their color. However, when the doctor probed his abdomen, Nicholas flinched. “Still a little tender, hey?” He gently laid a hand on the teenager’s shoulder. “Well, just keep up your fluid intake. I promise the bouts of nausea will pass.”

Mitchum wanted to tell the boy that his noticeable guilt would also ease, but concluded it wasn’t the time for a condescending medical or moral lecture. After completing his examination on Nicholas, Mitchum reached into his bag and pulled out a bottle of oily, pale-blue liquid. “If the pain and nausea get a bit much, then take three drops in some warm water.”

“No, thanks.” Nicholas slid the bottle back to Mitchum. “I’m done with taking anything from small bottles.” He nodded toward the kitchen. “Molly’s been giving me some of her broth to help with the cramps.”

“Molly’s broth, hey?” Mitchum grunted and reclaimed the medicine to drop back into his bag. “Bloody native witch doctor’s mumbo-jumbo.”

Nicholas slid his chair back, excused himself, and headed down to the cottage to see his sister. Dom also got up and followed his son, but only to the kitchen where he checked with Molly about their lunch

 

***

.

Sitting on the veranda, Mitchum patted his stomach. “Bloody hell, Dom. I’d gladly pay her double if she fed me like that every day.” Mitchum puffed on a freshly lit cigar, feeling quite full and satisfied from Molly’s repast of cold roast pork, assorted steamed vegetables, freshly baked bread, and followed by a double helping of scones with cream and jam.

“Don’t kid yourself, mate. Yesterday, she fed me cheese sandwiches and fruit.”

The two men drank coffee and talked for a while until the whine of Vigiles motorcycles coming down the drive broke the air of contentment.

“What do they want?” Dom made no attempt to conceal his contempt at the three uniformed men pulling up in front of them.

“I keep wondering why Marcus thought posting Gallio to replace him seemed like a clever idea,” Mitchum mused, recognizing the lead rider.

“I reckon, being nominated and then elected to proconsul clouded his judgment.” Dom studied the tall, gangly Roman dismounting the bike in his drive.

“Well, Marcus might be the quintessential master of people, politics, and the use of his military power. But this one–”

“–is an idiot.” Dom finished the doctor’s well-spoken sentiments.

“Mr. Harris,” Gallio said, after removing his helmet, and snapping down the bike stands.

“Gallio.”

Gallio stiffened perceptibly with the familiar manner Dom used in front of his men. He returned his best, humorless and polite smile before addressing Mitchum. “Doctor, what brings you out here?”

“Just checking on my patients.”

Gallio spotted the dressing on Dom’s forearm. “What happened? A farming accident?”

“They’re from my son. He had an overdose on that Enlightenment crap which turned bad,” Dom glared at all three Vigiles, “but you lot don’t give a shit about people taking drugs or even trying to catch the bastards peddling the garbage.”

“Dominic, I came by to discuss other matters,” Gallio rebuked, “not to discuss your son’s drug habits. However, the possession of drugs is taken very–” He took a hasty step back when Dominic strode right up to him in a flash of restrained temper.

Gallio quickly recovered his composure. He reminded himself who the two humans were, and how they, along with the former governor and other weak, liberal-minded Romans, worked to rebuild a sustainable society after the truce. But in truth, Gallio didn’t believe Dom’s acquiescence and neutral public stance toward the Romans, any more than he believed Decius’s theory about holes in space.

“Dominic, I sympathize with what has happened to you and your family,” Gallio said, raising an open hand to Dom. “So, please, understand I meant no disrespect.”

Dr. Mitchum studied the exchange between the two men, watching them ease back into their well-versed game of guarded diplomacy.

“It’s been a trying time of late,” Dom apologized, “between poor crops, a summer of little rain, and hotter days.”

“Yes, I am sure life on the land can be difficult.” Gallio pointed to the house. “Speaking of hot days, perhaps we can continue this inside?”

“All right.”

Gallio tipped his head, smiling with the sincerity of a striking cobra. He followed Dom inside the house and sat down on the couch.

“Please, make yourself at home.” Dom didn’t hide his sarcasm. “What can I do for you?”

“Doctor, do you mind if we talk in private?”

“Sure, but if you’re sick, I would have met you at the hospital.”

“No, Doctor,” Gallio rose to and pointed to the door. “I wish to speak with Mr. Harris. Alone.”

For several seconds, Mitchum held Gallio’s gaze and his ground.

“It’s all right, Tom.” Dom walked Mitchum out through the kitchen. “If you still need to check on Nicholas, he’s with his sister in Julia’s old cottage.”

Mitchum grunted, “Yes, well, I did come here to check on him too.” The doctor collected his bag from the floor, shook Dom’s hand and left the kitchen.

Sitting back in his chair, Dominic waited for Gallio to begin the conversation. Gallio, however, stayed silent, wandering about the room.

“I can assume from your comments outside,” Gallio lifted the top page of an open notebook, “that the Cooperative will be struggling with their quota this year.”

“Don’t fret. You’ll get your tributes on time,” Dom replied.

“Of course,” Gallio said,” I never doubted it.” He closed the notepad and returned to the couch where he discussed some changes to the region’s legislation and requests by the Senate, along with several more items revolving around the town council civic issues.

All right, you son of a bitch. What do you really want? “Gallio, I’m sure you didn’t come here to discuss local politics and the burdens placed on us by Toowoomba’s legislative changes.”

“Ah, direct as always.” Gallio moved across the room toward Dom. “What do you know about the unusual storm the other night?” He sat back down and gauged Dom’s reaction.

“Not much. Only that it was a bloody inconvenience.”

“How so?”

“For starters, it held us up overnight in Yarraman.” Dom saw no point in lying.

“Yes, I know. I received a report from the outpost there on those who were delayed or held over by the storm.” Gallio crossed his legs and adjusted his tunic.

Of course, you did. Dom resisted the urge to step over and punch the Roman senseless. Instead, he stood and went over to the drinks cabinet, returning with two glasses of local brandy. “And did those reports tell you it flattened about twelve hectares of my maze?” Dom handed the glass over to the Roman. “I also know some of the other crops in the area were also ruined.”

“Yes, I believe Mr. Bennett lost a sizable area of his corn crop.”

Dom took a sip and nodded. He’s fishing. All right, let’s run out the line a bit. “Did it come close to the solar station at Tarong?”

“It did cross the reflector field.”

“Much damage?”

“A few reflectors and some localized damage.” Gallio took a tentative sip of the brandy. “I’m more interested in what we found left behind from its passing.”

“I don’t follow.”

“On your trip back from Yarraman, did you see anything out of the ordinary?” Gallio studied Dom.

“Just some uprooted trees,” Dom replied. “One of them made the bridge over Barker’s Creek useless.” Almost enjoying the game, he poured himself another brandy. “Which meant we had to detour over Cuthbert’s Weir.”

“Why not the main road through Nanango?”

“The weir crossing is the shortest route to Jack’s place,” Dom replied. But you know that. “Can I ask what you mean by ‘out of the ordinary’?” Dom sat back in his chair

“The storm may not have been an ordinary storm.” Gallio held out his glass for a refill.

“You’ve lost me.”

“I’m told it could have been some sort of tear in space and time.”

“Come again?” Steady, Dom, just ease out a little more line.

“My scientists tried to explain it to me, but alas, I am just a soldier.” The Roman shrugged. “They described it much like a hidden and unstable tunnel through an impassable mountain range. Only, when something passed through the tunnel, it collapsed, trapping whatever passed through it on this side.”

“And you’re saying something went through this one-way tunnel?” Dom leaned forward. “Something dangerous?”

“Not unless you consider an automobile as dangerous.”

“I’m sorry?” And the bait’s taken. “It left a car behind?” Dom’s behavior and expressions would have done the traveling theater group proud. Time to start playing the line.

“Yes, and the driver and or passengers are missing, lost, or even taken.” Gallio leaned forward to rest his knees on his thighs.

“How do you know it was occupied?”

“The assumption is, we believe accurate because we found several tracks around the vehicle.”

“And you believe whoever left the tracks took whoever was in the car?” Almost ready for the net. “Is there anything I can help with?”

Before Gallio could respond, they heard a vehicle coming down the drive. Gallio went to the front door and raised a curious eyebrow at the faded, rust-stained blue Range rover coming to an abrupt, dust-raising stop near his men.

“Your friend, Mr. Bennet, walks a thin line,” Gallio said.

Jack stepped down with a broad smile and feeling pleased with his efforts. He strode past the two men who brushed the dust from their clothes. “G’day boys.” Only to snap to attention when Gallio stepped off the veranda.

“Praefectus.” Jack gave an exaggerated tilt of his head.

“Thank you for your offer, Mr. Harris,” Gallio called out. “But we have the matter in hand.” He ignored Jack, and approached the two Roman police, whispering to the taller of the two men, before he donned his helmet and mounted his bike. Gallio gunned the large electric motor to shower Jack in a wave of gravel and dust as he sped up the drive.

“Alien prick.” Jack brushed himself down and gave Dom a silent ‘does the bastard know’ look. He noted the barely perceptible shake of his friend’s head. “What did his lordship want?”

“Fishing and local politics, mostly,” Dom responded, eyeing the taller of the two young Vigiles approaching.

“I am Fir–”

“I know who you are MacMahon.” Dom snapped. “G’day, Michael.” Dom walked past MacMahon, shaking hands with the other slightly smaller and plumper uniformed man. “I see service in the Vigiles auxiliaries is treating you well.”

“Thanks, Mr. Harris.” Michael flushed.

Dom gave Michael a pat on the shoulder. He then stepped away and sized up MacMahon. Dom also caught Jack’s casual sidestep toward him and took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax. On more than one occasion, he had known men like MacMahon. They used others with careless disregard for the sake of their own advancement.

“Mr. Harris,” MacMahon stepped closer, “do you own a small, light-blue or gray-painted, two-wheel cart or buggy with white-spoked wheels?”

“I did have a pale-blue cart,” Dom answered truthfully. “Why? Have you found it?”

“Excuse me?”

“Have you found it?” Dom asked again. “Some bugger stole it just over a week ago, along with one of my better stallions,” he crossed his arms. “I’ll bet some nomads nicked it,” he rubbed his chin in contemplation, “or do you reckon some gypsy kids took it as a prank?”

“Um… no, we haven’t found it.” MacMahon found himself on the back foot with Dom’s rapid response and unexpected questions. “And you say some gypsy kids took it?”

“No, I said nomads, but if you know who pinched it then good.” Dom pointed his thumb over his shoulder, “Don’t bother looking for my horse, though. She came home a couple of nights ago.”

“Sorry,” MacMahon stumbled on, having lost all initiative from the questioning,

“the horse came back?”

“What about the cart?” Dom continued his own interrogation.

“If you’re asking for it,” Jack slid in seamlessly with Dom’s charade. “Then it’d be a fair bet you haven’t bloody well found it.”

“We saw it a few days ago near the old Nanango road, this side of Barker’s Creek,” Michael politely informed them. “We believe it may have been involved in an incident.”

“Yes. Thank you, Donaldson,” MacMahon snapped.

“Anyone hurt?”

“Hurt? No, we didn’t find anyone hurt.” MacMahon frowned.

“Just a wrecked, weird-looking car,” Michael added.

“Donaldson hold your damn tongue,” MacMahon barked.

“Well, what about my cart?” Dom pressed. “Where the hell is it now?”

“We are trying to find your cart, Mr. Harris,” MacMahon stammered, “that’s why we–”

“Here’s a thought,” Dom moved slowly toward MacMahon. “Stop friggin’ about to ask me about my stolen bloody cart, and just find it.” He shoved a finger at the two Vigiles. “Better yet,” he planted his feet and leaned within centimeters of MacMahon’s face, “piss off and find the low-life mongrels selling the shit that almost killed my boy.” Dom edged closer to MacMahon. “Now, get off my friggin’ land.”

Jack rushed up and guided Dom back a couple of paces away from the two Vigiles. “Easy, Dom. Let it go,” Jack whispered and then continued in a louder tone. “Okay you pair, I reckon you’ve got your answers. So, get back on those battery powered toys and go hey.”

MacMahon stood there with his hand clenched around his nightstick grip. “Good afternoon, Mr. Harris, Mr. Bennett.” Without taking his eyes from the older men, he strutted back toward the bikes with Michael by his side. “Who does that old fool think he’s talking to?” he whispered. “I’d have taken the old bastard if that ape Bennett didn’t step in.”

“Not likely,” young Michael replied, donning his helmet, and climbing onto his bike.

“No one fucking well asked you,” MacMahon snapped.

Dom watched the two Vigiles officers steer their bikes onto the road before he marched back inside with Jack in tow.

“You gonna tell me about it?” Jack collected the two dirty glasses.

“Not much to tell,” Dom called from the kitchen.

“Bullshit,” Jack yelled back. “The bastard’s checking you out?”

“He knows we stayed overnight at Yarraman.”

“Yeah, well, those pricks have got spies everywhere.” Jack walked over to the drinks cabinet. “At least Marcus had been easier to deal with.”

“Gallio’s a soldier, not a politician.”

“Doesn’t matter. The bastard and his lapdogs are all as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.” Jack saw his friend’s expression when he returned from the kitchen. “I know, I know, we can’t prove it.”

“Just remember, his best lap dog bites.”

“Nothin a bloody bullet won’t fix,” Jack said under his breath. “So, what else did you and his lordship chat about?”

“He did tell me they found the car.”

“Shit.” Jack almost spilled the drink he had poured.

Dom helped himself to another glass and briefed Jack in on the conversation.

“I’m just glad a tree did fall across the bridge,” Dom added when he finished his relaying the afternoon’s events.

“Well, they obviously saw your boy and the cart.” Jack scratched his chin under his beard.

“If they saw Nicholas with the cart, Gallio wouldn’t have wasted time talking.”

“I guess so.”

“I got the feeling our esteemed governor knows a lot more than he’s letting on.” Dom pondered his glass. “Let’s hope when our guest wakes up he can fill in the gaps.”

 

 

5

 

The next morning’s early westerly breeze passed through the open window caressing Ried’s face with its slight chill. His brow furrowed above pinched eyes. The morning glare lanced through his eyeballs to stab the back of his skull. With a soft groan, Ried rolled his head away from the stream of incoming light.

Something’s not right? The ground. I remember lying on the ground. He tried to focus on the memory, but it came out jumbled, like a jigsaw scattered on the floor. There were the stampeding roos… A storm… Wait, I was in my LAV… but it was hot?

His eyes flashed open, an action he at once regretted. With each painful blink, his mind swept away the remnants of sleep. He found himself on a bed, in a room, instead of on the ground in the hot sun. He rolled his head and squinted through the window into the faint, hazy, and cloudless blue sky. Beyond the window, cast in silhouette against the morning sun waved the tops of several large gum trees, and on the breeze, came the melodic warbling song of magpies.

He went to massage his stiff neck. Jesus. A sharp, painful pinch in the back of his hand brought a stop to his actions, and he frowned at the IV needle in his hand. What the… He reached for the IV needle to pull it free, only to stop at the sight of a folding camp bed with the sleeping figure of a woman lying under a sheet.

Ried called out, but no sound passed his parched mouth and throat. After several attempts, he managed to raise enough saliva to ease the dryness in his throat. “Hey. Wake up.”

The woman stirred at Ried’s croaky command. “Oh, you’re awake.” She rolled over to sit on the edge of her bed and plucked a cotton dressing gown from the floor to cover her pale-green, cotton boxers and T-shirt. “Sorry, I must have slept in.” She stood and stretched with a yawn while massaging the sleep from her eyes.

The young woman walked around Ried’s bed to the window and closed the curtains against the morning glare. She flashed a smile before heading over to relight an old combustion stove. Happy with her efforts, Ried’s mystery roommate returned with a jug of chilled water and two glasses from a fridge which looked older than the stove.

His eyes followed the woman around the room. Who the hell is she, and why is she sleeping beside my bed?

He guessed the young woman was around his height. Her head of wavy, mahogany-brown hair flowed down and bobbed against her shoulders, and the way she tied off her gown did nothing to hide her slightly full hourglass figure.

Feeling a little embarrassed from his close study of the attractive young woman, Ried began to give the floor and the room more scrutiny than it deserved. This place doesn’t look like any typical hospital.

The inside walls and ceiling were made from tongue and groove boards, with the walls painted in a soft, buttery-yellow, and the ceiling painted white with old style light fittings hanging from the boards and flaking paint.

He paused his study of the room when he realized his roommate stood smiling down at him. She poured the water into a glass and passed it to him. He took the glass and tested the water with a sip before he greedily swallowed the rest down in gulping mouthfuls.

“Steady,” she warned him. “You’ll make yourself sick.”

Ried felt the taut dryness recede from his mouth and throat. He held out the glass for more.

“Now, sip it this time,” she scolded him.

“What happened?” He ignored her instructions and gulped down more water while searching through the fog in his mind.

“You crashed the other night, out on the flats during the storm,” the young woman responded. “When they found you, Dad brought you here.”

“Where’s here?”

“My dad’s farm.”

“And your father is who?”

“Dominic Harris.”

He handed her the glass for another refill. “I remember a couple of blokes talking…”

“The other one was Uncle Jack.” She refilled his glass. “He’s not our real uncle, but we’ve called him that since we were kids.”

“Are they the ones who took me out of the car?”

“Uh-huh. Along with my brother, Nicholas,” she replied. “Let me tell you, Dr. Mitchum was not happy they took you out of your wrecked car before he arrived.”

“And this is your farm?” Ried raised an eyebrow and again looked around the room.

“That’s right. We’re in my mom’s old day cottage,” she said.

“On your farm?” He held out the glass again. “Which is where?” The brunette’s company and her relaxed manner began to override his concerns.

“About ten kilometers south of town.”

Ried continued drinking and raised a questioning eyebrow.

“Oh, sorry. Kingaroy.”

“Kingaroy?” He shook his head. “No… It can’t be…”

“Well, it is.” She humored him with a ‘don’t be silly’ smile.

“But I was headed toward St. George when the storm hit me.”

“St. George?” She shook her head. “You must’ve hit your head pretty hard. Maybe your memories are mixed up.”

“Not that hard.” He swiped her hand away to feel the dressing on his forehead. “What the hell am I doing near Kingaroy?” He studied the young woman and the cottage, his ease swept away with a caution. “Why did they bring me to this farm, and not the local hospital?”

“He didn’t say. Just that it was better if you stayed here.”

“On his farm near Kingaroy…” Ried didn’t hide his skepticism. What’s wrong with the hospital in town?

“Yes,” she took his glass. “Why, do you think I’m lying?”

“I don’t know…” Ried hesitated. “I just find it weird that he didn’t take me to the hospital. It’s like he doesn’t want any questions asked by the cops or local authorities.”

“Trust me. You don’t want the local authorities involved,” she told him. “I suppose Dad’s got his own reasons to not tell the Ro–” Her brow creased in a frown as she leaned closer to him.

“What?” Ried pulled back from the scrutiny of her dark gingerbread and emerald eyes. His skepticism turned to suspicion with her sudden inspection, and he scanned the room for a weapon but found nothing. Although, the way she tied the robe around herself came close to qualifying as a weapon.

“Your face.”

“What about it?”

Her eyebrows pinched a little, which accentuated her pointed nose. “Your black eye and bruises… They look almost healed up.”

Ried lifted his hands to his face, wincing when the needle pinched him again.

“You were pretty banged up when the doctor and I…” she trailed off when she lifted the bandage from his head. “Strewth,” she whispered.

“Strewth what?”

“The gash above your eye.” She knelt and reached under the bed.

Oh, shit. Ried stiffened, but then relaxed a little when she put a first aid kit on the bed.

“It’s almost healed over the stitches.” She sat beside him and leaned against him.

Ried’s caution merged with a wave of embarrassment at the proximity of her chest, and her pleasant, musky odor sent his emotions into overdrive, so he dragged more of the sheet across his lap to conceal his reaction.

“Hold still,” she chided. “Benjamin, please keep still,” she chastised him while she pulled out the last stitch, and covered the almost-healed scar with a Band-Aid. Then, with her hand still cupping his chin, the woman rested the back of her other hand against his forehead and cheeks. “You’ve still got a fever.”

Without any warning, she pulled back the sheet to inspect the bruise on his ribs. A little intimidated by her behavior, Ried made a show of dragging back the sheet, but she pushed his hand and the sheet away to check under the other bandages and Band-Aids.

“Okay, just stop.”

“Sorry.” She sat back down on her bed. “I told the doctor how fast your cuts and scrapes were healing, but he didn’t say anything yesterday when he saw you–”

“Hang on,” Ried frowned and backed away. “How the hell do you know my name?”

“I looked in your wallet.” She offered him a small, embarrassed smile, and shrugged.

“Really? And did you ‘look’ at anything else while I slept?” Ried quipped, pulling the sheet farther up his stomach.

“Don’t flatter yourself.” Collecting the empty glasses and jug she gave Ried a hard glare. “All I’ve bloody been doing the last couple of days is playing friggin’ nurse to you, along with my dad, and my brother.” she stormed to the kitchen table slamming down the tray spilling some water.

Before Ried could utter another word, she marched back in, waving her finger at him. He raised his open palms, not wanting to test her temper any further.

“And let me tell you, mate,” she continued, “there are better things I could have been bloody well doing.” The brunette thumped the chair beside his bed and sat down, grabbing his hand. “Now, I’ll take this out. Then, you can go and clean up.” She placed a thick Band-Aid over the exit wound left by the IV needle and pinched it down hard with her thumb.

“Christ.” He winced from her firm grip. Ried shoved her hand away and held his own hand over the Band-Aid.

“The bathroom’s through there.” She stood and pointed to the only door inside the cottage, before returning to the kitchenette. “Oh, and I washed your clothes while you were asleep,” she called out over her shoulder, “or is that also invading your privacy?”

Ried held his tongue and threw his legs over the edge of the bed. Two things followed: he pushed himself upright, and then crashed to the floor in a nauseating wave of giddiness.

“Shit.” With closed eyes, he swallowed away his nausea, and rose on his hands and knees before easing himself onto his heels, only to fall back against the bed, tangled in the sheet on the floorboards.

She rushed back to help him stand. “Sorry, Benjamin. The doctor told me you might be dizzy, but I forgot.”

“No problem. I just got up too quick.”

“I’ll get you a chair to sit on.”

“It’s okay,” he assured her and then walked into the bathroom, supporting himself on the walls and door.

“Well, I’ll wait out here then. Just in case.”

With the water running from the shower nozzle, Ried took off the splint from his left wrist and inspected the yellow-blue stain of the healing bruise. Standing under the flow of hot water, he flexed his wrist for a few seconds, before a small bout of vertigo almost sent him falling against the wall.

“Are you okay in there?”

“Yep. All good.” Bullshit, Ried. You feel like crap.

A few minutes later, Ried sat at the table where, against his better judgment, he devoured a basic breakfast to fill the bottomless void of his empty stomach.

“So,” he pushed the empty plate aside, “you wanna try to explain some more why your father brought me here?”

“I told you, he didn’t tell me.”

Ried frowned at her response, crossed his arms, and leaned back in the chair.

“Don’t give me that bloody look,” she snapped. “You could have at least bloody well thanked me for nursing you.”

“Okay–”

“If I’d known you’d be so bloody ungrateful, I would have told Dad to bugger off, and dump you in town.”

Jesus, this one’s got a temper. Come on Ried don’t push your luck. Just figure out if she’s a friend or a captor… “Look, this is just a bit of a shock and…” Ried mollified his tone feeling like he was back in school staring down a pissed-off teacher. “I’m sorry.”

The young woman stared across the table with her arms folded.

“No, seriously. I’m sorry, Miss…”

“Abbey, Abbey Harris.”

“Nice to meet you, Abbey Harris.” Ried gave his best apologetic smile.

“Nice to meet you too, Benjamin.”

“Ben or if you like, just Ried. Only my grandad called me Benjamin.” He watched Abbey unfold her arms and then noticed her brown eyes glinting with her smile.

“Do you remember what happened to you?” she asked while clearing the table.

“Not much. I only remember driving on the highway toward Gore.” He waited for a reaction. When none came, he continued. “Then, there was a storm, which I reckon drove me off the road.”

Ried puckered his brow as he tried to recall more of his accident. He began to feel feverish again, and he put down his cup to wipe some perspiration from the back of his neck.

“You’re sweating like a pig.” Abbey handed him a tea-towel. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not sure.” He hugged himself.

“I reckon your fever’s getting worse.” Abbey moved around the table. “Come on. Let’s get you back to bed.” She helped him back into the wrought-iron bed, and fluffed his pillows, brushing herself against him in the process.

Christ. Is she doing that deliberately? “How long was I out for?”

“Since your accident, maybe four or five days all up.”

“What!” He gawked at her in disbelief, his chills forgotten. “Shit. I really need to make some calls.” His eyes explored the room. No phone. “Have you seen my mobile?”

“You’re what?”

“My mobile. My phone.” Ried paused at the questioning look on Abbey’s eyes.

“Sorry, you’ve lost me.”

It was not the answer he’d hoped for. Ried climbed off the bed, and slowly wandered over to where his belongs lay stacked against a wall. He rummaged through the bags until he found his phone. When he turned the mobile over, he sighed at the shattered screen, “Shit.” Ried threw the mobile with back in the bag and stood wiping his sweaty brow.

His suspicions came back hotter than his fever. He looked around the room again, absently rubbing the front of his right shoulder as he charged out of the cabin.

This place reminds me of a bad ‘80s movie. And what’s with the bullshit about being near Kingaroy?

“Where are you going?” Abbey called out.

Ried ignored her. He studied the cleared area around the little house. On the eastern side of the small ridge ran a line of dense scrub. To his left, cut into the hill, was a campfire pit with a couple of old, weathered, gray logs for seats.

The only path he saw branched off a vehicle track and disappeared up over a small rise to the right. Without hesitation, he stormed over to the path. All right, Ried. It’s time to find out what the bloody hell’s going on.

“Benjamin, please wait,” Abbey called out, running after him. Strewth, he’s quick. When she eventually caught up to him, she pleaded between breaths, “Benja… Ben, you still need to rest.” She tried to grab his arm.

He twisted his arm from her grasp and held up an open hand. “Five days? I reckon I’ve rested enough,” he barked, before heading toward a small gate set in a waist-high, timber, and chain wire fence, extending around the back of the main house.

Ried swung the gate aside and headed toward the back steps of the house. Standing in the open door at the top of the stairs, watching on with a look of concern, was an Aboriginal woman in her forties, her short, curly hair highlighted by wispy grey streaks. Her hands rested in the large pocket of her jacquard cotton apron, which she wore over a floral, full-length, sleeveless dress.

“It’s okay, Molly. He’s our guest from the cottage,” Abbey said as she grabbed Ried’s arm again. “Is Dad inside?”

“He’s in the dining room.” Molly examined the young man through anxious, hooded eyes. “Is he okay, Miss Abbey?”

Hearing raised voices outside, Dominic stepped past Molly onto the top step.

“Mr. Harris is it?” Ried freed himself from Abbey. “You need to tell me what the hell is going on.”

Dominic wore a neatly trimmed mustache on an otherwise tanned and clean-shaven face. He stood dressed in denim trousers, elastic-sided boots, and a khaki, cotton, drill shirt. But, the man’s commanding blue-gray eyes caught Ried’s attention above his other features. Their color gave them a hard look, but behind the tough exterior, he sensed a hint of compassion.

“Do I…?” Dom crossed his arms and looked at his daughter, who shrugged her shoulders.

“Sorry, I’m Benjamin Ried.” He climbed the steps with an outstretched hand, which Dom accepted on reflex. “Most everybody calls me Ben or Ried.”

“Benjamin Ried,” Dom repeated in a hushed voice and went inside.

Ried took Dom’s exit as an invitation to follow him through the kitchen, and into their lounge room.

In the lounge room, Ried paused at how the furniture seemed a little off. It wasn’t off in a bad context; it was just odd, looking neither new nor modern. A couple of items were old, yet it all appeared well cared for. But, rather than being antique, most of the pieces looked dated and tired.

Dotted about the wall were three solid, timber, vintage-style cabinets full of well-worn books and a scattering of ornaments. In the corner behind the couches, Ried saw an old-style analog phone – the kind with a rotary dial on its face – sitting on a time-worn roll-top desk.

“Are you feeling all right, son?”

He could feel the slow trickle of sweat running down the back of his neck and accumulating on his face. “Honestly, I feel like I’m burning up.” Ried flopped into the wooden swivel chair in front of the desk to reach for the phone.

“Let’s go into the dining room,” suggested Dom. “Abbey, get the boy something cold.” Dom moved beside Ried and helped him up. “Are you sure you’re up to having a chat?”

“Yes,” Ried insisted. “You’re the one who found me?”

“That’s right. We saw your crashed car last Sunday–”

“Sunday? But I crashed on Thursday night.” Ried shook his head and plonked down on the chair again with a weary thump. “That’d mean I was lying out there for almost three days.”

“I think you’re a little confused, son. The storm came through Saturday morning, and held us up overnight at Yarraman.” Dom leaned forward to rest his elbows on the table. “That’s how we discovered your car on Sunday. Because it wasn’t there last Saturday when we drove through.”

Ried didn’t say anything else. Instead, he sat back with his arms folded, watching Dominic. Why won’t the man look me in the eye?

“Can I ask where you were headed before the storm hit?” Dom dismissed his guest’s silent and arrogant pose.

“Out west, toward St. George. Then, the storm came and started to…” Ried paused when a flash of memory came back. He felt unsure whether to reveal what he remembered.

“Started to do what?”

“This is gonna sound nuts, but I reckon it chased me.”

“Storms don’t chase people, son.”

“Yeah, well, you weren’t there, were you?”

“Benjamin, were you named after your father?”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, I just assumed.”

“Well, I wasn’t,” he said. “Look, what do you want with me?” Ried leaned against the table. “Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad you helped and everything, but I want to know what’s going on.”

“Do you remember anything else about your accident?”

“Like I told your daughter, I drove off the road, and crashed from the storm.” Ried leaned back. Okay, this is getting tedious and a little more than odd.

“You don’t remember how badly you were hurt?”

“No. Why?”

“You were pretty knocked about. You had a fractured left forearm, two fractured ribs, and you also had severe bruising and swelling around your ribs, spine, and hips.” Dom pointed to the Band-Aid on Ried’s head. “Not to mention the nasty gash on your forehead.”

“Give me a break. Your daughter told me it’s only been a few days since I crashed.” Ried raised his eyebrows in disbelief. “So, how come I don’t feel like I’ve been through the wringer?” He stood to go out. “You lot must think I’m crazy.”

“Sit down, son,” Dom pleaded. “Yes, we rescued you, and took a hell of a flaming risk doing it,” he shrugged. “Or maybe I should just hand you over to the bloody Romans and let them deal with you.”

“Romans.” Ried leaned back and furrowed his brow. “Romans? Who the hell are– What the hell are you talking about?” He glared at Dom. “Just where the hell am I, and who the bloody hell are you people?”

“I’m trying to ask the same of you.” Dom delved into his pants’ pocket. “I went through this last night.” He flicked Ried’s wallet across the table. “Tell me where you came from, son. Because what I saw in there,” he gestured to the wallet, “didn’t make any sense.”

“I guess looking through people’s stuff runs in the family.” Ried scooped up his wallet from the table.

“Where are your proper papers?”

“My papers?” Flabbergasted and disbelieving, Ried opened his wallet and removed its contents, spreading them across the polished table. Across from him, Abbey had returned, dressed in her regular jeans and a checked blouse, carrying a tray with a glass jug of iced tea and three glasses.

“Look,” Ried said. “I don’t know what you mean by papers.” He stabbed at each of his cards. “This is my driver’s license, these are my gun permits, and the rest are my debit and credit cards.” Ried’s face dripped with perspiration. Mopping up his sweat as best as he could, he held up the plastic cards one by one.

“Credit cards?” Dom straightened two plastic cards scattered on the table. “Credit cards haven’t been around for decades.” He then tapped a finger on each license. “And why bother to carry cards that show they’ve been endorsed by the Queensland Government?” He slid them back toward Ried.

“Because they were.” Ried held his stance.

“Here’s the thing, son,” Dom continued. “The Queensland Government hasn’t existed for nearly forty years–”

“Piss off.” Ried jumped out of his chair. “What kind of bullshit is this?” he wiped more sweat from his neck and face. “How about you tell me why you didn’t take me to a hospital, and why you brought me over two hundred klicks from where I bloody well crashed?”

“I can assure you it isn’t two hundred klicks to Barker’s Creek,” Dom replied. “And taking you to the hospital didn’t seem prudent.” He softened his tone. “Please, sit back down.”

Ried stayed standing, almost preferring to fall against the wall in defiance.

“If I took you to the hospital, then the authorities would have locked you up ‘til the bastards figured out where you came from.”

“Here’s a heads up for you,” Ried shot back. “I came from Brisbane and was driving to a new job in Western Queensland.”

“All right, son, you–”

“I’m not your son.”

Dom shrugged. “Ried, you might want to sit down for this…” And then Dom explained, to the best of his ability, Gallio’s theory of how Ried ended up in their world.

“Bullshit.” Ried almost laughed when the explanation concluded. “You’re trying to tell me I fell through a hole in space?” I don’t know what weird bloody game they’re playing at. But, I’ve no intention of playing.

“It’s what their scientists reckon.” Dom sat back.

“And just who the hell is this mob you keep calling the Romans?” Ried pinched the bridge of his nose before massaging his forehead and gulped down a glass of the cold tea.

“It’s complicated.”

Ried palmed away a growing film of perspiration on his forehead. The action alone added to the pinched look of frustration he wore.

“Are you okay?” Abbey reached across for Ried’s hand.

But Ried pulled his arm back, and swept up the cards from his wallet, glaring at them both. “You lot are fucking nuts,” he spat and rushed from the house.

 

 

6

 

Ried ran through the gate and down the path to the cottage and realized it would be the first place anyone would go looking for him. When he heard voices emerging from the house behind him, he ran at a crouch toward the barn and dove headlong into the damp grass and dirt behind a water trough.

Hugging the cold moist concrete wall of the trough, he crawled on his stomach to peer around the end closest to the barn. From his vantage point, he saw Abbey and Dom standing at the back door, having an argument or heated discussion until Abbey pushed past her father.

Dom trotted down the small set of stairs after his daughter, pausing at the gate he surveyed the barn and sheds for a few seconds, before going back inside.

When Dom disappeared inside, Ried was about to run across to the barns open door and caught the movement of a vague silhouette in the shadows beyond the door.

“Clever bastard,” Ried said and waited.

Once it was all clear, he counted to three and then darted inside the barn hoping to find a car or motorbike to make his escape. Instead, all he found only bales of hay in the dust-filled shafts of light and several horse stalls on his left.

“That’d be right…” he faced the small stables and puffed his cheeks. “Okay, on horseback it is.”

Behind his back, something metallic moved with a clink and tap.

“Shit.” Ried’s gut clenched and his diaphragm lurched. He crouched, turned and moved against the wall opposite the stalls. Ried balked for several seconds at sounds source. Despite his fever, Ried’s blood chilled from the vision.

A wall of implements, all drawn from the stuff of murder; scythes, long shears, double-bladed axes, and different-size cane knives hung on the wall, swaying in the breeze.

“Bloody hell. I’m never gonna read Stephen King again.”

Farther along the wall, he spotted a rope and tackle system trailing from a winch motor in the rafters. An L-shaped rail jutted out from the wall to the left of the tools and farm blades. Slung along the rail sat six saddles and blankets.

Inside the nearest stall, a chestnut mare lifted her head, pointing her ears forward, stepped back and snorting at the intruder.

Ried kept his movements slow and controlled as he approached the stall. “Aren’t you a beauty. You must be, what, fifteen hands high?” He admired the animal’s long neck, draped in a well-groomed blonde mane and toned body and legs. Three of which ended in white socks and a black one on her front left forelock, which the mare casually pawed through the hay covering the floor. He ignored the pawing hoof to look past her full white blaze, punctuated by a reddish-brown star, and inter her deep brown eyes.

“All right you. Let’s both stay calm, eh?” He backed up to the rail and crept forward with the saddle and blanket in hand.

The mare watched Ried step toward her, snorted and rolled her head forward, and lifted her snout.

Without breaking eye contact, and with unhurried actions, Ried stepped inside the stall and lowered the saddle and blanket to the ground.

“Good girl,” cooed Ried stepping in front of the animal.

In reply, the animal bobbed her head and curled back her top lip taking a deep breath.

Standing still, he studied the mare. She’s frightened… No, it’s something else…

“Easy girl… I’m not going to hurt you…” Easy Ried, an angry or upset horse in a small stall means a bad ending for both of us. The dust in the air clung to his fevered sweat making him itchy, and it took all his willpower to keep calm and ignore the tingling desire to wipe the sweat and scratch.

Ried softly stroked her neck with the palm of his hand, while resting his hand on her nose. His mother’s words rang through his mind:

“Horses are no different from people. A soft, gentle caress is far more soothing and respectful than a series of slaps, gentle or not.”

The horse’s muscles shivered from his touch. “Shh. Easy, girl.” He kept his movements slow and rhythmic. “How about you take me for a ride, hey?” Conscious of how her pawing front leg could lash out and cripple him he stepped up to caress her under the chin.

After a moment, the mare calmed down and pushed herself against Ried.

“That’s it. See? I’m not so bad.” He reached for the blanket and froze when he heard voices outside. He slipped back into the stall and peered around the rail toward the door.

Through the open barn door, he watched Dom, Abbey, and a young bloke with a ponytail standing with his back to the barn. Beside them stood a man with well-tanned skin, who left them to make his way toward the barn.

“Shit.” Ried ducked, taking care not to spook the mare or raise any dust. He held his breath when the man stopped at the door to count the horses.

When the horse lifted her head, snorted, and stomped her black-socked hoof on the ground, Ried almost shouted.

In the barn, the man approached the stalls, “Quiet, Devil.”

But the closer the man came, the more agitated the animal grew. Ried balled his fists. He didn’t want to hurt the bloke, but he had no intention of allowing them to keep him here either.

The closer the man came, the more agitated Devil grew from his intrusion. She flicked and snaked her head with wide eyes and ears flat against her head and her breath puffing through her nostrils in harsh snorts.

Ried crept past behind Devil and peered through a split in the stall’s timber wall.

The man raised his hands, cursed the horse, and walked out of the barn.

The moment the intruder left, Ried stood up beside Devil’s head to look over the stall. Devil’s aggressive behavior stopped, and she nudged her cheek against Ried’s shoulder.

Ried reached up and stroked the mare’s neck, “Hello Devil. I’m Ried.”

With another quick glance at the open barn door, Ried quietly made his way out of the stall. He followed the outside voices as he approached the wall near the barn door to spy through a hole in the timber boards.

Dom and his daughter entered a larger shed about a hundred meters away. The man from the barn ran toward the cottage, while the young one with the ponytail went back into the house.

Holding his position, Ried waited for Dom and Abbey to exit the other shed and heard a motor start followed by them driving out in an open-backed ute, heading around the front of the house.

A sense of relief washed over his tension as he stepped back to finish saddling the horse, and then get the hell away from the farm with its family of nutcases.

He dragged his hand across his sweat-drenched face and wiped the gritty moisture down his pants and led Devil from the barn into the midday sun. In the brighter light, he inspected her hooves and rechecked the saddle, bridles, and girth buckles. Satisfied, he adjusted the stirrups and then lifted himself into the saddle.

The second the Devil felt Ried’s weight, her ears rolled back, and she walked backward. He leaned forward, and grabbed the horn of the saddle, expecting the mare to throw him. He continued whispering to her until she relaxed under him. When he felt sure Devil accepted him in the saddle, he twitched the reins and rode past the house.

When they passed the main gate, he stopped, unsure of which way the old man went, or even which way he should go. He looked both ways along the road and shrugged his shoulders. “Okay, do I go right or left?” Without hesitation, Devil turned and walked down the road. “Alright, left it is.”

 

The following day, Ried reached a T-intersection in the road. He paused and rested his elbow on the saddle’s horn. “No doubt about it. I’m lost.” His stomach gurgled from hunger. He straightened back up, flexed his shoulders, and massaged his stiff neck. He nudged Devil into the shade of a stubby gum tree and stared into the surrounding hills and scrub.

Frustrated, lost, and confused, Ried wiped sweat from his face. His night in the country on the road hadn’t done anything to improve his fever or chills. The intersection looked no different from the others he had passed.

On his left, the ribbon of patchy, dark-gray bitumen disappeared around a bend shrouded by trees; on the right, the road followed the gradual rise of a small hill.

Sweat trickled between his shoulder blades, and down his back, as he walked Devil across the road to a pair of rusty steel posts jutting out of a thick, woody patch of weeds and creeper vines.

Ried dismounted and squatted down to tear away at the mass of woody, vegetation until he revealed a faded road sign. Wiping away the dirt and grime, to reveal almost illegible letters against the oxidized and sun-bleached background color.

He spat on the sign and continued to scrub away the accumulated decay and grunge until the faded lettering revealed a name: Kingaroy.

“Bloody hell.”

From where it lay in the grass and weeds, the sign’s faded arrow pointed ahead of him. Without much else to guide him, Ried mounted Devil, “Okay girl. The sign points that way. So, that’s where we go.”

After several minutes of riding, Ried shivered under his fever induced perspiration. Unsure of how else to treat the symptoms, he kept riding in the warm, mid-morning sunlight. As he rode, something niggled his senses and thoughts. Ried stopped Devil to regard the sun shining down from above his right shoulder.

“The sun’s on my right. This time yesterday, it was on my left… Which means I’ve turned myself around.” He glanced back along the road and frowned at the shadows, and then raised his eyes skyward. It must be close to midday, but… Ried scanned the horizon and then squinted back toward the glowing white orb in the pale-blue sky. “It’s way too hot for August, and the sun’s in the wrong spot.”

The warm breeze blowing in from the south-west soon evolved into a light wind, cooling his balmy perspiration – a sensation he hardly found refreshing. In fact, it only enhanced his fevered chills.

“Where the hell is everyone?” he asked Devil. “You would’ve thought I’d have seen somebody since yesterday?”

After a while, he came across a bridge standing in the middle of a swamp-filled gully. The road leading toward the bridge washed away by years of floods and erosion, left a gap just over two meters wide, and filled with bulrushes.

From his vantage point on Devil, Ried saw the deeply scarred roadway and the exposed broken and rotten timbers of the bridge’s foundations.

“Christ. Have I stumbled onto the set of an Australian Walking Dead?” Everything about the old bridge and gully spoke of something more than neglect. “Bloody hell,” a feeling of defeat ebbed at him. “it’s the same bloody bridge we saw yesterday.” Shaking his head, Ried tugged on the reins and turned the horse around.

On his left was the side road they took yesterday, a little farther along another side road ran off to the right into a wooded valley. “What do you reckon Devil, if we’re gonna stay lost we might as well do it in some shade.”

After riding for four hundred meters down the road, the valley widened, and the grove of trees thinned to reveal more remnants of barbed-wire fences and old, termite-ridden fence posts standing in the dry, waist-high grass.

At one point along the way, his excitement grew when he spotted a track leading off the road, carving its way through the grass lining the road’s edges. Ried steered Devil along the track, and reined her in by a broken, rusty gate.

Beyond the gate stood the remains of an old farmhouse, surrounded by a field of swaying grass and weeds. Much of the house and roof had fallen in on itself. The front stairs, having long collapsed, into the long grass.

Morbid curiosity enticed Ried to wade the mare into the long grass to inspect the derelict property. A small herd of wild cattle roaming around the house skittered at Ried’s approach. He stopped her under the shade of a tree while he took a closer look. From the road, he first thought the house had fallen in due to age and decay, but from his new vantage point, the scene told a different story.

He dismounted, draped the reins over his shoulder, and walked toward the nearest wall with Devil in tow. The old farmhouse was nothing more than a weather-beaten facade hiding the shattered roof, trusses, frames, walls, and floor.

“Huh. Must have been one hell of a storm.”

After tying the reins around a broken floor joist, he edged closer to the jagged back walls, avoiding the fresh patties of cow dung. Ried inspected several pieces of the broken weatherboards, “this wasn’t done by a storm…” he turned sideways, spreading his arms to estimate the angle of impact and trajectory. “Whatever hit the building,” Ried traced an imaginary line with his finger, “came in from this way, and crashed somewhere over there.”

Ried zig-zagged past the houses broken skeleton and waist-high ryegrass, cobbler’s pegs, and blackberry weeds toward a nearby tree line. Twenty-odd meters past the house and to the right, he spotted a weather-stained metal frame amidst the grass. “I guess it crashed closer than I thought.”

When he parted the grass, what he found looked like the remains of an inline cockpit with the left and underneath side of the triangular frame crushed and twisted. Any padding on the seats decayed to leave only frames and springs, the instrument panels were nothing more than broken metal with cracked or missing gauges.

What Ried found most fascinating was the pieces of fuselage sheeting left attached to the framework. At first, he thought the metal was rusty, but when he rubbed away the grime, the light reflected back from the sheeting deep-bronze patina. Only, from what he could tell, the stuff wasn’t bronze or copper. Curious about the odd find, he searched the grass, distracted from his uncomfortable fever.

A few meters away, he kicked at a cylinder covered in the same ultra-thin sheeting. He knelt and wrapped his arms around the tube, and then rocked and tipped the short, fat cylinder until it broke free from the soil and weeds growing inside.

He tugged the plant and its matted roots from inside, to reveal a multi-bladed fan. “What the fuck…” He flipped the tube over. On the cylinder’s outer casing, he found two opposing bracket mounts. The segmented and hinged section of the cylinder behind the fan resembled a venture thrust nozzle. “What kind of jet nozzle is this?”

Ried dropped the cylinder and walked back past the skeletal cockpit, to poke and prod amongst the grass and weeds with his boot. Excitement and curiosity overrode his hunger and chills when he unveiled part of a broad delta-shaped wing. He bent down to lift the wing from the matted grass and soil and found it lighter than expected.

With its shelter taken away, a bulky, flat-headed lizard hissed at him. “Shit. You’d be about the ugliest blue-tongue I’ve ever seen.” He waited until the gray and brown reptile waddled into the grass, before he rested the wing-shaped object on one edge, to let the sun stream through the dozen holes punched through its thin sheeting. “Bullet holes?”

He rubbed his hand across the brown skin until he could make out the etched symbols in the metal: a bull below a few letters in either Latin or Greek. Ried frowned at the images and crouched down pushing his palms against the metal and stood while pushing his arms out. Ried grunted with puffed cheeks I his efforts to tear the length of metal wing from the blanket of weeds and grass. The underside gave him no more clues to the metals origin.

Without thinking, he dropped the wing and stepped across the metal sheeting which popped back into shape after each step. The only evidence of him crossing the wing were his footprints, smudged in the dirt and grime.

Ried turned and bent back over the unusual wing, and rubbed his hand along the metallic skin. “What sort of alloy doesn’t dent?” Frowning, he turned to continue separating the grass with the toe of his boot, until he found what he had dislodged. He lifted the rotting piece of plastic-like material. “Body armor?” Ried frowned at the familiar pattern of the pressed material. “Who wears body armor like this?” He glanced back at the wing with the strange symbols. “C’mon, you’re imagining things. It’s just a piece of someone’s flight suit.”

When he turned it over, several dried rib bones and vertebrae fell at his feet. He dropped the armor in disgust, and wandered back to the house, only to trip and stumble from a piece of metal half buried beside a shrub.

“Gimme a break.” Ried kicked away the dirt around its edges and then wriggled it free. What the hell? He lifted the piece of metal and rolled his hand around. “A sword?” He looked back at the broken body armor, the wing, the remains of the cockpit and then back to the rusted sword.

He stood there, contemplating everything he found. The strange metal sheeting on the fuselage, the wing with bullet holes, the back end of some sort of jet engine, and a piece of armor and sword for a gladiator – It didn’t add up.

He dropped the rusted sword. “It’s official. I’m lost in a bizarre ‘coma’ dream, or I’m still asleep in the diner,” he concluded, though he wasn’t convinced of either theory.

On his way back to the road, Ried stopped near the gate to give the house one last look. The scene and old building resembled a derelict vessel on an undulating sea of beige and grays, a decaying guard hiding a bizarre secret.

Beside the track, he spotted the rusted hulk of an old truck. The chocolate-brown rust contrasted the long grass it lay shrouded in. Tree saplings forced their way through the splintered floorboards of its tray. The truck’s rubber tires, long since perished, left the rims rusting on the ground.

Both doors were missing, revealing the interior of the cab, including the buckled wireframe of the steering wheel and its shaft, protruding from under a skeletal dashboard. Any upholstery, lining, and fillings had all rotted away. The rusted hulk’s body showed dozens of small black holes – old bullet scars from somebody’s past target practice.

“C’mon, girl. Let’s get out of here and find some help.” He tugged on the reins to head back along the road, with a nagging, growing sense of unease and melancholy.

The rhythmic, hollow click-clack of Devil’s metal shoes on the bitumen echoed back at him, a haunting sound in the still air. Ried maneuvered the mare into the grass and creeper vine beside the road. Unfortunately, the swish and padded thud of the animal’s hooves through the grass did little to ease his sense of loneliness and melancholy.

He rode in silence, scouting the surrounding country. Surely there must be somebody working out here. When he and Devil crested a small hill, Ried spotted a line of high-voltage towers with their cables hanging slackly to the ground. Beside the broken towers, trailing into the distance, were smaller ones. Unlike their taller companions, the wires appeared in good condition and draped from tower to tower.

The combination of mismatched towers running parallel to each other struck him as a little odd. Then again, the last couple of days were nothing but odd.

Ried stroked Devil’s neck. “How about you tell me what’s going on around here?”

The mare merely shook her head and flicked her tail.

“Well, something or someone is getting power, so let’s see where they lead.” Ried sat back and spurred Devil into a trot.

The motion of the trotting horse, the fluctuating fever, sweats, and growing stomach cramps, soon made him feel more than a little unwell. He eased Devil back to a steady walk, and patted his face dry with his sleeve, swallowing back the bitter bile burning his throat.

The images of the last two days played on his mind. The ruined farms and bridges, abandoned machinery and the weird ultralight plane. Then, there’s the old-world look of the cottage. The odd assortment of furniture in the old man’s house –  which looked like it came from a recycled store.

“Hell, even their bloody phone looked like something my grandparents would’ve owned.”

The horse gave a small snort.

“And what about all the weird bullshit the old man spun me?” Devil swung her head around to look at him. “What, no reply? I figured you’d be on his side.” He rubbed the animal’s neck.

With a determined grunt, he decided to try retracing his steps back to the farm to find out where his car was, and then head off to the nearest cop shop.

Ried tugged on the reins and almost fell from the sudden cramp in his stomach. The sharp, intense pain folded him over the saddle and left him resting on the mare’s neck. He took several deep breaths until the contractions eased enough to let him sit back upright. The see-sawing fevers and sweats, along with the onset of cramps, ground down his strength. Lack of water made his head throb from growing headaches, and his vision wavered in and out of focus.

“Come on, Ried. You’re a member of the second R.A.R.” He rubbed the front of his right shoulder. “You’ve been through worse. So, get your shit together,” he berated himself, yet, he couldn’t remember ever feeling this sick. He felt like every muscle argued with his organs in a snowstorm, while he stood on a lava flow.

Devil continued down the road, feeling the weight of the rider on her back increase before he fell forward and slumped across her neck. She walked at a steady pace while rolling her neck, shoulders, and hips to keep the non-responsive rider from falling out of the saddle.

Ertyl/MPC Millennium Falcon Update No 5

To those keeping tabs, welcome back to the fifth update.

After completing the cockpit canopy and interior I started on the next subassembly… The Falcons sensor dish. The shot below shows the finished piece compared to the studio model. Pretty good hey. 😉

After the sensor dish, I returned back to add extra detail to the main lower hull section. As with the top mandibles, I corrected the missing detail on the guide rail sections. (pic-1) I’m not sure if that is what they are, but that’s what I’m calling them. I also, as I did with the top hull, thinned the outer edges and then added extra greebles to the rear engine area behind the loading bay area and continued to add damage to the hull plating edges.

 

With all that done I then began working on the lights for the engine, spotlights and watch your headlights while waiting for the 3D printed forward landing bays to arrive in the post from the states.

The engine lighting proved the most problematic. Compounded by my limited skill as an electrical and lighting engineer. What does that mean you ask? It means my friends I blew one set of lights for the engines glow and destroyed several other pre-wire LEDs for the searchlights. The later came from more ham-fisted skills than bad wiring.  However, after studious effort and tongue gnawing persistence, I managed to get a full set of working lights. Woo-whoo!!! This included a string of surface mounted LEDs to light the gun well addition I purchased.

Now those with a keen eye may notice the section of PVC tube glued inside the model. The idea for this is so when I glue the top and bottom hull together the section of pipe will help add the domed look of the main hull. Now, my piece is only 5.2mm in height, which is a little shy of the length required to gain the most accurate look, but if I used the 6.5mm section as per those who are more skilled and pedantic, it would have meant carving up the hull and adding a whole lot of inner rib sections to stabilize everything. As well as rebuilding the outer wall of the access corridors and cutting away the mandible sections… So my piece is short enough to give me a better shape without any weird distortions.

 

Ertyl/MPC Millennium Falcon update…

So a lot has happened on this project since my last post. The original goal I set myself was constructing a good representation of the five-foot model used in A New Hope. I can now attest this plan is now overwritten, trashed and gone. Now the model is tracking along to be a blend of the thirty-two inch and modified five-foot models used in The Empire Strikes Back and subsequent sequels.

Alright, let us take a peek at what I have done…

Once I finished my attempts at re-detailing the top Hull I decided to detail the cockpit interior, exterior, and canopy. The exterior of the kit wasn’t quite to scale so I sanded off the panel detail, added some styrene sheet and redid the area for the Kool-Shade grill and carved out the bottom of the access tube to represent the battle damage. Along with the re-worked panels, I also added more greeblies from the bits box as well as pieces of thin styrene rod and parts from donation kits.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Satisfied with the exterior of the cockpit access way I spent the better part of a weekend detailing and assembling the 3D printed cockpit interior with lights, and with the parts made from translucent plastic lighting was straightforward. More or less. I painted only the front wall of the back wall, used colored PVA glue over some of the holes molded in the plastic and then mounted four white LEDs, two small red surface mounted ones and a tiny warm LED under the main console.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Because the 3d canopy piece is a different to the piece supplied in the kit, the clear insert for the glass didn’t fit so I tried unsuccessfully to make my own from clear acetate. Now after removing the offending clear inserts I have decided to leave them out. I did this for two reasons. The first was because the smudged and glue and ill-fitting acetate spoiled the detail and secondly the actual filming miniatures done have any clear inserts. After all, I am trying to mimic the filming models. 😉

More to follow later…

 

 

 

 

The Off-Worlder Chronicles: Terror Australis. Part One

 

Many agreed the summer days of 2021 were hotter than most, and Saturday, the twenty-third of January helped support the consensus.

The air shimmered under a hot baleful sun blurring the horizon behind a hovering dust beneath which drove a small convoy along the cracked bitumen of a decaying highway, 160 kilometers southwest of Toowoomba, the governing capital of the empires northern region.

The lead vehicle, an electrically powered, three-wheeled motorbike, veered onto a dirt access road in a plume of billowing dust. Behind the rider, a curved platform rose, protected by an armored screen shielding two manned Gatling-style machine guns.

Trailing the war trike came two motorbikes, sleek machines with their high-gloss plum-colored fairing flowing back from over the front wheel a pair of matching panniers forming an aerodynamic armored casing for both the rider and machine.

A six-door limousine followed the front escorts. Two small satin flags mounted above the headlights fluttered and snapped in the wind. The banner on the driver’s side gold cloth contrasted the jet-black silhouette of a bull above Roman numerals. The passenger side flag displayed a star within a red and green laurel wreath, above two crossed gladius swords, and the letters S.P.Q.R.

A kilometer down the arid dirt road, the cavalcade pulled up in front of a hangar at an abandoned airfield, leaving a trail of pale dust floating northward on a sluggish breath of wind.

In one synchronized movement each rider dismounted to form a cordon as Marcus Civilis Emeritus emerged from the vehicle squinting against the harsh sunlight. At his feet, a swirling dust eddy tracked a path across the powdery dust while the dry heat pinched his exposed skin. After a furtive scan of the area surrounding the compound, Marcus leaned into the limousine to retrieve his cloak.

In the distance, a small mountain and ridgeline lost focus through the shimmering haze behind a grove of long-dead trees.

Marcus draped the cloak over his shoulder and brought up his manicured hand to halt two of the bike riders marching over to him.

“Stand at ease, Centurion.” He glanced at the flimsy, rusted chain mesh security fence. “There is a reason we call out here no-man’s land. So, I suggest you all head over to the canteen. I will phone through when I am ready.”

“By your command, Proconsul.”

Marcus’s chiseled face offered the smallest hint of a smile before he turned toward the structure. Time to find out whether our investments are proving fruitful. On entering the building, he paused, blinked, and squinted from his pupils’ sudden dilation in their effort of adjusting to the lower light spectrum. The immediate drop in temperature, a result of the super-chilled air which streamed from the outside condensers, stung his warm skin. When his eyes recovered from entering the dark room, the scene reminded him of a tactical operations center on an orbital battle barge. Against the two longer walls stood an assortment of cabinets and desks, attended by three Roman science auxiliaries dressed in bottle-green overalls. Three of the men busied themselves in front of computers, typing codes on back-lit keyboards. A fourth Roman paced up and down, making notes on a clipboard filled with papers.

“Lafrenius, why do you insist on keeping the lights so dim?” Marcus blinked and donned the mulberry hued velvet cloak over his immaculate, ink-blue, two-piece linen suit. “And must the temperature always be so cold?”

“Marcus?” An older man poked his head from behind a two-meter-high data bank. “When did you arrive?”

“An impromptu visit.”

“You know my thoughts about such…visits.”

“A point you have made countless times before.” Marcus wandered through the room, mesmerized with glowing dials, gauges, and monitors filled with moving bar graphs and data streams.

“If you find the temperature too cold or the lighting too dark, you could wait back in my office,” Lafrenius said in a dismissive tone, “We are about to begin the trial of the new targeting matrix, and the bright lights make certain gauges difficult to read.”

“It would seem I came at the right time.” Marcus smiled at the aging Tribune. “Can I help?”

“Yes. You can ionize the mapping screen and then stay put.”

Marcus tipped his head in acquiescence and moved across to the back wall to activate a large rectangular screen. Charged gasses between two plates of crystal started glowing to coalesce into a cloud filled with swirling eddies of blue, red, green, and gray, appeared.

Lafrenius went about zig-zagging between the consoles and the operators, making notes with his stylus. Then he stopped beside a seated technician, referred to his scribbled formulas, and adjusted some of the dials. With a quick look to his left, Lafrenius grunted when a single red dot pulsed on the technician’s console. Lafrenius shifted his attention to the mapping screen where a smaller red dot flashed.

The scientist tapped his stylus on his nose and walked back to the bank of instruments to adjust more dials and type in added codes. “No. No. NO.” He trotted back to the technician with the pulsing red light. “You are not compensating for the spatial drift and phase variance. I have told you before; the two dimensions are not parallel. They are alternate.”

Lafrenius struck the younger man across the back of his head. “Now, rework the calculation for a…” he scribbled on his board, “…6.536 variation. That should be enough to counter the drift vector.” He swiveled his head between the two out of sync red lights. “Quickly adjust the Z axis.” He continued to tap the stylus against his nose until bot lights pulsed in a continuous rhythm. “Better.” He called across to Tiberius, “Bring the central console online.”

The operator closest to the proconsul walked to the opposite end of the room, where he sat in a cockpit style console station.

Lafrenius then made his way towards the mapping screen and tweaked several dials on the screen’s control panel. With each adjustment, the image of the cloud coalesced until a spiral-arm galaxy filled the right side. On the edge of one of the spiral arms flashed a tiny green dot.

“All right, Tiberius. Are the solar capacitors fully charged?”

“Yes, Tribune.”

“The backup batteries?”

“All at full capacity.”

“Excellent. Proceed with initializing the power relays, and then turn on the outside lights.”

In front of Tiberius, the wall began glowing to reveal a one-way mirror. Despite himself and the instruction by Lafrenius, Marcus made his way to the window accompanied by a distant hum growing more intense.

The control room stood on a raised platform, at the end of a hectare size warehouse structure covered by a curved roof. Thirty meters in front and below the window stood an octagonal ring carved from basalt. Embedded into the internal corners, contrasting the slate-gray rock, were eight tetrahedrons of quartz crystal set in place by brass straps.

Behind the ring, stood a circle of twelve brick sized magnets, each fastened to small, triangular columns interwoven by coiled cables. Once powered, the electromagnets lifted a Gyrosphere made from a bronze alloy to bob on a cushion of air. On the back side of the stone circle stood four steel tripods supporting giant drill-like arrays aimed at the octagon’s crystals in the twelve, three, six and nine o’clock positions.

Dozens of leads snaked across the floor to connect the six-meter-wide ring, the small towers, and the Gyrosphere, to a wall lined with transformers.

Tiberius activated his console and slid his chair forward, so his hands rested on two rotating balls nestled amid an assortment of numeric keypads and toggles.

When he flipped a toggle, compressed air hissed, and hydraulics whined to lift his entire station. A second switch brought up a holographic target array, Tiberius rolled the balls under his palms until the center ring of the array sat over the gyroscope. Satisfied with the holograph’s position, he thumbed two more toggles.

Marcus stood transfixed watching the center of the Gyrosphere begin to pulse blue-white, and then rotate with increasing speed until the apparatus resembled a golden ring around a white center.

Lafrenius manipulated the crystal screens and called over his shoulder, “Bring the particle beams online.” In front of him, the blurred image of the galaxy formed on the screen’s left side to mirror the first. Within seconds, a small red dot came to life on an outer arm of the new galactic spiral.

Hypnotized, Marcus watched in awe as the pointed nose of the drill-like objects faded behind a purple glow.

“On my mark…” Lafrenius said. “One… two… three… mark.”

Marcus leaned closer to the glass when each emitter simultaneously fired a pencil-thin mauve beam at a corresponding crystal. The quartz balls flared from deep within to reveal twisting ribbons of lavender light creeping outward. The crystals outer skin soon sparkled from the energy bolts, and in less than a minute, each turned into writhing balls of energy.

Then a clap of thunder sent vibrations through the glass wall as a continuous beam of light met in the center of the ring to create a ball of chaotic energies.

“Status report?” Lafrenius asked.

“The portal is stable, but with only a half-meter dilation,” replied Tiberius.

“Excellent. Commodus, initiate the carrier beam.”

An assistant rolled his chair across the room and typed a command into a computer console. The instant he tapped the enter key, a bright white shaft of light shot from the spinning Gyrosphere’s center, and struck the writhing mass of energy in the stone octagons center.

Another sonic boom erupted from the ring. The proconsul flinched and stepped back from the quivering window. The atmosphere beyond the glass turned to white fog and rain, obscuring his view of the warehouse space.

Behind him, Lafrenius’s eyes darted between the two galaxies. He adjusted the dials to zoom in on the images, held his breath, and watched the screens. Within seconds, a thin orange line stretched from the green dot on the left to connect with the red dot on the right.

The air filled with static. A small console fell off the wall in an eruption of sparks and fused wire. Beyond the window, the rain and fog began funneling into the basalt ring. Within a minute, the internal squall disappeared.

“Increase the particle beams’ harmonics by a factor of 2.96.”

The vibration in the room increased. A half-filled coffee cup slid off a table to shatter on the floor. “Tribune Lafrenius…” Tiberius called out, “…the carrier beams are destabilizing.”

Lafrenius ran to Tiberius’s console. He studied the readouts while massaging the back of his neck. Something on the third monitor to the left caught his attention. “Tachyon particles are causing feedback. Something is creating a temporal loop. We need to re-modulate the frequency of the particle beam by a factor of seven.”

“And the carrier waves?” a technician named Quintus enquired.

Lafrenius wove his way to the mapping screen via several monitors, where he adjusted the controls to magnify the right-hand image. “Twelve percent added to the frequency output should be enough to compensate.”

“Tribune.” Quintus waved the senior scientist over to his monitor. “I am picking up an image.”

Marcus and Lafrenius joined Quintus in time to see a black and white image coalesce on his screen.

“What is it?” Marcus squinted at the monitor.

“What we are looking at is the surface of another planet in an alternate dimension, and, if these readings are correct,” Lafrenius proclaimed with a smug tone while crossing his arms in triumph, “it is also the birthplace of our ancestors.”

“Do you know when?” asked Marcus.

“It is hard to say.” Lafrenius darted to the mapping screen and adjusted the image until a blue-green planet filled the crystal display. His fingers massaged the dials in gentle caresses. The image zoomed in on hills covered in lush undergrowth, grass and trees, and the occasional village of stone houses and thatched roofs. “The images conform to the descriptions from the Novicus Patria scrolls.”

“Well done, my friend.” The proconsul patted the older man’s back.

Superimposed over the topographical display hovered a transparent red disc rimmed by bright yellow. “The portal openings appear stable enough…” The old scientist frowned and leaned closer to the readout overlaying the time-lapsed videos. “Tiberius re-modulate the beam by a factor of seven.”

Tiberius raised his hand to the bank of dials, but before his fingers reached the first one, his console erupted. Green flames and arcing energy blasted outward. The entire console spasmed when its hydraulic base collapsed. Tiberius screamed as his body turned into a writhing mass of burning flesh and clothes.

The mirrored window flexed before erupting into a horizontal hailstorm of glazed shrapnel. The atmosphere in the warehouse danced with pulsing flames, sprouting from clouds of lavender and aqua. A battering ram of air slammed through the control room in a pressure wave tipping tables, unfurling ribbons of perforated printing paper, and threatened to cast aside the four remaining Romans.

Twisting fingers of energy arced through the shattered window. Commodus, dazed and bleeding from a cut above his eye, died when a bolt of energy grazed his chest.

The floor buckled, and a bank of lights in the ceiling exploded to rain glass and sparks across the room. Marcus raised his head above the window frame, the sight of a single demonic eye stared back at the proconsul.

Shadows fluctuated with the moving lights in the warehouse. The basalt ring now glowed an orange-red, and the inside of the quartz tetrahedrons burned white. Beyond the stone ring, the eight emitters lay broken and scattered on the floor. Behind those and still hovering above the magnets, the Gyrosphere continued to spin.

Only now it cast out probing fingers of arcing energy to touch each of the crystal balls. When the last tendril and crystal connected, the Gyrosphere launched itself into the center of the ring. Inside the control room, the wind howling wind shifted into reverse.

A technician dragged himself back to his computer. “We’ve lost containment. The portal is drifting.”

Lafrenius stood, bracing himself against the sucking atmospheric pressure.

The stone circle hovered above the floor; its orange glow grew brighter until the entire thing morphed into a disc of pulsing light and colors. Lafrenius cast a quick glance at the monitor connected to a camera in the rear of the warehouse. What he saw made his heart race faster. Facing them was a disc of swirling multi-hued energy with a white center, yet, the image from the rear camera showed a circle of grey fog.

At that moment the dimensional rift bounced against the curved ceiling. The ionized gasses and particle clouds rotated into a cyclonic whirlpool around a brilliant white ball of the transformed gyrosphere. The faster the energy and gas spun, the smaller the glowing ball became until it disappeared at the end of a reversed tornado.

Lafrenius pointed to the rear camera’s relay screen. “Do you see it, Quintus?” Lafrenius clutched the technician’s shoulder for support. “The funnel extends back for hundreds of meters–”

“–yet the portal still appears flat.” Quintus toggled his head between the screen and Lafrenius. “By the gods… It’s beautiful.”

Around them, the negative air pressure increased to create a vacuum. Loose items, broken equipment, all began disappearing into the spinning vortex, along with the shattered beams and roofing. Absorbing the debris seemed to feed the eye of terror, which paused, and then smashed through the roof with a sudden explosive scream.

“Track it,” shouted Lafrenius.

Quintus ran to the mapping screen, where he spun dials and flicked switches. “It’s heading north-east, traveling at twenty-six kilometers a minute.”

Lafrenius helped the proconsul to his feet before he joined Quintus. Overlapping images replayed in the charged gasses between the crystal plates. In a translucent green circle, scenes of the local desert and salt-scrub terrain flashed by, while those in the red disc portrayed bitumen roads lined with headlights, pastoral lands, and townships illuminated by street lamps.

“Is that a storm?” asked Marcus.

“A possible by-product of the portal’s ionized field,” Lafrenius told Marcus.

“The images from the opposite opening… Something is different.”

Static filled the screen, the green circle wavered, before fading on the image of abandoned, ruined farms, and a broad undulating floodplain laced with gullies. In a brief flash, the mapping screen went black. Quintus and Lafrenius attacked the controls in a vain effort to re-establish a connection.

“Sorry, sir. By these readings, the portal has collapsed.”

A confused Marcus followed the old scientist around the room. “Lafrenius, what happened?”

“Gravimetric distortions, solar winds, increased radiogenic disruptions, and EM fluctuations…” Lafrenius walked across to an overturned printer and tearing off its printout continued his private conversation. “But, what caused the temporal shifts? What did I miss?” his face contorted with internal calculations. “A passing space body? No… No, it would require one with huge mass.” Something on the printout stopped his musings, he ran across to another printer and rifled through the readouts. “Of course, a simultaneous planetary alignment.”

“In simpler terms.”

“It means, Proconsul, the experiment was a failure.” Lafrenius threw aside the paper in frustration.

“Sir,” Quintus interrupted. He sat at his computer and re-ran the recording from the mapping screen with superimposed codes and formulas. “The last image we recorded.”

“Just passing scenery,” Lafrenius said. “We can analyze the data stream later.”

“No, sir.” Quintus twisted to face both Marcus and Lafrenius.

“Explain.” Marcus leaned closer to the paused blurred picture.

“Something was pulled through from the other side,” Quintus said.

Marcus fixed his gaze on Lafrenius. “Is that possible?”

“In theory,” the gray-haired scientist shrugged. “Our objective is to move objects or people, but not at this stage of testing.”

“Are you certain of your findings?” Marcus continued to study the blurred image.

“Yes, sir, and…”

“And what?”

“By these readings, it appears to be an artificial construct,” Quintus paused to highlight a line of code on the screen, “and the object also contained at least one life sign.”

“Lafrenius. Where is your sub-ether comms unit?”

“In the phone exchange beside the canteen building.”

Marcus pulled the scientist to one side. “Do you trust the men in this room?”

Lafrenius hesitated and gave his proconsul a worried frown. “They have kept our secret this far.”

“Yes.” Marcus smiled and patted the scientists back. “Well, let us make sure they continue to do so,” he said as he turned and left the shattered control room.

2

 

On a Thursday afternoon in late August in 2014, Ex-Sergeant Benjamin James Ried sat silent and alone at a roadhouse café, 150 kilometers due west of a small country town in Queensland, called Gore.

A cattle truck, trailing a thin cloud of gray-tinged dust, shuddered to a stop beside the twin set of diesel pumps. In less than a minute, the dry, stale perfume of old manure mixed with bovine piss pervaded the air inside. The diner’s only patron twitched his nose at the intruding odor.

He listened to the muffled cries of its cargo. “Poor buggers. If only you knew what your future held.” He washed down the remaining sinewy piece of his steak sandwich with a mouthful of tepid percolated coffee. The coffee, toast, meat, and salad fought against his stomach acids. Ried burped and swept his hand through his cocoa-colored hair. The early dinner did not fall into the category of the worst food he’d ever consumed, but nor did the meal rate anywhere near the best. Still, it did abate his hunger.

To his right, the images moving across a wall mounted flat-screen TV depicted the decisive moments of the station’s afternoon movie, a 1960s war movie where the hero defeats the hapless Germans, saves the damsel, jumps in a Jeep, and drives off to his next mission of glory.

A lopsided smile creased his cheek. “What a crock of shit. Where in the real world does a soldier save the day, defeat the enemy, and drive off with the girl?” He picked up a two-day-old, dog-eared newspaper left abandoned on the chair beside him. “Not this soldier, that’s for sure.”

“Give me a break.” The front page’s headlines, cast in bold typeset, highlighted another football player’s drug scandal. The journalist went on to question the player’s integrity leading up to the September 2014 finals.

Farther down the page, the article about another soldier killed over in the Middle East barely received a decent sideline piece. He flipped the paper face down beside his plate and closed his green-flecked, hazel eyes.

With a sigh, he rubbed his temples. I suppose nobody gives a rat’s arse about what we are doing anymore. Well, if the world doesn’t care, maybe I shouldn’t either.

Ried rubbed his eyes. The weariness from his trip begun to catch up with him. Casting a brief look around the café, he nudged the empty plate aside, rested his head on crossed arms, and dozed off to let his past dreams float upward.

 

“What the hell are they playing at?” He tapped his throat mic. “Foxtrot two and three, why have you dropped back?” Ried’s earpiece crackled before a tiny voice vibrated through it.

“Sorry, skipper. A mob of goats and a farmer ran out on the road.”

“Push your way through.” Ried pulled out his briefing notes and scanned the coded page. “Shit.” He turned to a soldier manning the twenty-five-millimeter cannon behind him. “Jimmy, rotate and scan for hostiles.” He did his best to keep his voice calm. “Matchbox two and three, reverse your twenty. I say again, reverse your twenty.”

“No need. We’ll just go ’round the–”

“NEGATIVE. I repeat, NEGATIVE. Do not go off-road.” Ried flipped the safety of his Styr and turned to his driver. “Simmo, do a 180, NOW!” He thumbed the mike. “Foxtrot two and thre–” His earpiece erupted with a burst of static. “Fuck.” He pulled out his satellite phone. “Garage, Garage. Matchbox one, two, and three under assault–”

His ears popped when the vehicle’s cannon fired at a small ridge.

“Skipper! Tallies on our nine and six!” The gunner fired another shell. “Simmo, get us the fuck out of here.”

A twisting train of smoke arced toward the LAV. The ground in front of the reversing armored vehicle disappeared behind a ball of flame and dirt. The cannon fired another two rapid shots.

“RPG! RPG! They’ve got fucking RPGs!” the gunner shouted seconds before his turret ruptured amidst an expanding ball of flame concussion.

 

“Shit.” Ried sat upright his hands gripped the table’s edge, his knuckles white. His ears pounded from the increase in blood pressure. His breath came in hyperventilating wheezes as his heart thumped against his chest.

Looking around, he blinked his eyes until they refocused on the diner. A wave of embarrassment washed over him. His ragged breathing returned to normal, and he forced himself to release his grip to wipe away the sweat from his face.

Cleaning the diner’s floor, a waitress turned and glanced his way.

Ried lowered his eyes and stepped out of the booth to duck into the restroom. His reflection in the mirror held a familiar shadow of torment.

Survivor’s guilt, the shrink called it. He squeezed his eyes closed and flexed his neck muscles. “Fucking oath it’s guilt.” Turning on the tap, he splashed water on his face.

Come on, Ried. Maybe it’s time to stop running and settle down and sort your shit out. He massaged the front of his right shoulder, sighed, and left the washroom to return to the table.

The waitress abandoned her monotonous sweeping and sauntered over to stand near his booth. She gazed at the younger man while combing her mousey-blond hair around her right ear with her fingers.

Ried tried his best to ignore the hovering woman by concentrating on the mud-colored liquid in the mug cradled between his palms. He caught her arching shoulders above an overemphasized straight back.

Really? Her actions gave off less subtlety than a rifle butt on his forehead.

“Are you all right?”

“Sorry, bad dream,” he murmured.

The waitress bent down to retrieve an envelope lying near his foot. “I think you dropped this.”

“Oh, thanks.” He put the letter beside his empty plates.

She walked off through the swinging door into the kitchen. Her cloying citrus and vanilla-scented perfume lingered in her wake. When she returned with a tray and cleaning cloth, Ried couldn’t decide which smelled worse: the woman’s cheap scent laced with the odor of stale cigarette smoke or the residual aroma of the cattle truck.

The waitress tossed Ried’s dirty plate and newspaper on the tray. She moved the letter, reading the name and address written on the envelope. “Lavarack Barracks, huh?” she pried. “You’re a long way from home.” She leaned closer, wiping the laminate surface of the table above his waist. “You on leave?”

“Discharged,” Ried picked up the envelope and slid it into his pocket. He then picked up the cup, but instead of drinking, he swirled the tawny liquid. Disillusioned is more like it.

“I once knew a bloke in the air force,” she continued. “Are you headin’ home or takin’ a holiday?” She slid into the bench opposite him.

The corners of his mouth rose and fell in a quick “you can go now” smile. “New job out west,” he replied.

“So, you alone, Benjamin?” The woman stroked her earlobe, oblivious to his subtle rejection.

He shrugged and almost told her he preferred Ben or Ried rather than Benjamin. However, as always, he struggled to converse with the opposite sex. Besides, he didn’t want to indulge in her obvious flirtations.

After a few seconds of awkward silence, Ried checked his watch. “I should be back on the road.” He excused himself with an apologetic smile and exited the diner.

***

The jarring bump and the gravel drumming under his car blasted away the fog shrouding his concentration.

“Shit.” Christ, Ried. Are you trying to kill yourself?

He jerked the wheel to bring the car back onto the bitumen. The tires squealed in protest, and the rear end swung in short erratic arcs. Twenty meters down the road, Ried pulled over and forced his arms to relax. His cheeks and mouth puffed with an exaggerated release of breath. The semi-digested steak sandwich clawed its way up his throat on a bubble of gastric juice. He swallowed back the burning regurgitation and forced his heart to return to a constant beat.

Ried reached across for the bottle of water rolling around on the floor behind the passenger seat, unscrewed the cap, and washed away the unpleasant taste. When the last of the liquid flowed across his tongue, he rubbed his eyes. If you had any brains, you’d pull over and sleep. Instead, he massaged his neck and peered through the dozens of dead insects glued to his windscreen. Or they’ll be scraping you from the inside of the glass.

Ried accelerated his car under the moonless star-filled sky. On a typical night, plumes of light would herald the passage of cars and trucks driving along the highway. However, except for the few vehicles detouring west of Warwick, the only headlights on the road this night belonged to his car.

The dashboard’s pale green light reflected off his tired and drawn face, giving him a haunted, hollow appearance. A frown creased his forehead after he glanced at the digital clock. “Ten-thirty,” he grumbled. Christ. It’ll be hours before I get there. Bloody roadworks. In the distance, a flickering glow pulsed in a cloud bank on the horizon. And I am not in the bloody mood to deal with a storm.

Resetting the cruise control, Ried willed the far-off storm to drift south-west. He then stretched his legs and rolled his shoulders, an activity which did little to ease the fatigue swamping his muscles. A quick check of his mobile’s GPS confirmed his next fuel stop, a roadhouse on the outskirts of Gore, was fifteen kilometers away.

Don’t give in now. You can sleep at the truck stop. Until then, bloody well stay awake and drive.

However, within minutes, his body started betraying him; not from his heavy eyelids, but from the urging of a full bladder. “Well, when you gotta go, you gotta go,” he said, bringing the SUV to a stop.

A blast of chilly air slapped his face when he stepped from the comfort of his car. “Strewth.” He recoiled from the oppressive, wet, sweet, and sour odor of some nearby roadkill in slow decay. “God, I miss the smell of the bush.” The crickets went on chirping in the long grass, oblivious to his sarcasm.

The malodorous, chilly breeze snaked its way past his collar and tickled the hair on his back, rippling his skin with goosebumps. The night’s cold caress also hastened his need to pee. Ried hurried through the beam of his headlights, away from the highway, and released the pressure from his bladder. The sensation produced a sigh of almost pure rapture. A tart, metallic odor wafted up from the warm stream of urine near his feet.

A childhood ditty popped into his head. “Who wrote the new book Rusty Bedsprings?” he asked aloud. Once done, he cried, “I pee nightly!” He re-zipped his jeans, grinning at his joke.

With his back to the road, Ried closed his eyes and stretched his tired body. At the completion of his calisthenics, he opened his eyes to find the storm clouds had drifted closer and now filled the sky.

Damn it. I was hoping it would cross– He squinted into the gray-black gloom. “Sounds like something’s in a hurry…” To Ried, the noise sounded like a medicine ball bouncing through the paddock’s grass and salt scrub. Overhead, a lightning bolt streaked between two clouds, lighting the surrounding fields.

“JESUS.” Ried threw himself on the patch of urine-soaked ground when a kangaroo leaped over a nearby bush. With a weighty thud, the enormous marsupial’s taloned paws landed to bracket his head, before it leapt over both him and the car.

“Bugger me…” He went to push himself back on his haunches but fell back on his rump when another roo swooped out of the night, to land half a meter away from his right foot, before it too leaped away, its tail brushing the nape of his neck when it passed. “Holy shit.” Ried scurried backward against the front passenger tire of his car. The air expelled from a short, nervous laugh condensed beneath his nose. Then, with comic slowness, he turned to peer over the bonnet and watched the animals melt into the night.

From behind him came a muffled, drumming noise, with the crack and snap of dry shrubs. He flinched when a long, blue-white ribbon of light skipped under the clouds.

“HOLY SHIT.”

A further series of brief flashes revealed hundreds of leaping marsupials pouring from the trees and shrubs in a tsunami of brown and gray fur. The sound of their paws beating the ground, the snapping of branches and the whipped rustle of grass, drowned out the purr of the idling motor.

Overhead, lightning bolts continued to pulse, and in the flashbulb glare, Ried realized the animals were stampeding in one direction: his. Oh, shit. He fell on all fours to dart around the opposite side of the SUV when a stout, muscular wallaby collided with the car only to have the ensuing mob trample its body. Ried paused in shocked silence to watch the thronging mob jostle the wallaby backward. A final kick from a giant red sent the battered corpse sliding from sight, down the road’s slight embankment.

“BLOODY HELL,” he cursed again, scuttling to the cover of the driver’s side as the space around himself and the car filled with kangaroos and wallabies.

If I stay here, these bloody things would likely kick me to death. Ried dropped on his stomach and rolled under the car.

Another of the animals misjudged its leap, bounced off the bonnet, and skidded along the gravel, before it twisted upright to leap across the road, thereby avoiding the wallaby’s fate.

After several minutes, the mob’s numbers thinned, until only the sound of their continued flight echoed from the scrubland across the highway.

Ried’s quick breaths puffed the dirt under his nose. He didn’t move. Instead, he watched, listened, and waited. He stared wide-eyed through the letterbox view beyond the car’s wheels. When no more roos or wallabies came bounding out of the darkness, he crawled from under the car.

What the hell brought that on? Overhead, the dense cloud bank continued to pulse with lightning and Ried shielded his eyes when a forked blue-white rope of energy lanced downwards before twisting skyward.

Something about the kangaroos’ stampede and the look of the storm didn’t seem right. Without checking any of the damage done to the car, Ried jumped behind the wheel, started the engine, and accelerated back along the highway.

Confusion replaced Ried’s awe from the stampeding kangaroos when the night suddenly fell into abrupt darkness. What the hell… What happened to the lightning?

With a jolt, increased wind squalls buffeted his car. The air became a frenzy of swirling twigs, leaves, and dry grass, yet, except for the wind, all other signs of the storm had vanished.

Strewth… I’ve never seen a storm move that bloody fast.

After several minutes, a reflection in the mirrors grabbed his attention. Huh? He frowned at the storm approaching from behind. Can’t be the same storm? His rear-view mirrors filled with reflected lightning.

No claps of thunder or rumbling followed the lightning. I’ve never heard of a dry storm, in the middle of August? Ried focused on the door’s side mirror.

Two storms within minutes and right after a mob of roos came charging at me out of the scrub? “And I thought the Ghan was full of weird shit.”

The only sounds Ried heard came from the tires and the static screeching from the radio speakers. Distracted by the ear-destroying shriek and hiss, he diverted his eyes from the road to silence the radio. At the same instant, he caught some movement on the road ahead.

“JESUS CHRIST.” He slammed on the brakes. Ried heaved hard on the wheel, while the pedal shuddered under their anti-lock system. In place of the swirling flora and litter, the beams of the headlights filled with an assortment of cattle, horses, and wild deer.

What the– Every animal crossing the road seemed confused and were careening off each other in twisted circles performing an abstract animal dance of absurd chaos.

Ried then noticed something far more disturbing than the whirlpooling behavior of the beasts. Somewhere in the stampede’s earlier path, many of the animals had become ensnared in barbed wire and fence posts. Foam and sweat, stained pink from blood, covered the terrified animals’ chests, flanks, and legs.

In their dusty wake, the all too familiar aroma of fear, adrenalin, and blood filtered through the SUV vents.

Ried scanned the direction from which the manic herd came. “What the hell is out there?” he muttered. Visions of terrified animals still haunted his eyes. He considered pulling over to investigate, but another volley of wind battered the car. “On second thought, I’ll let the cops at Gore figure it out.”

He slipped the gears into first and eased down on the accelerator. Above the speeding car, the clouds churned into a swirling eddy, illuminated from within by more flashbulb bursts of white-blue.

“Jesus. Is that a tornado?” That’s gotta be what spooked them.

The car’s movements became more erratic as Ried avoided the larger pieces of debris tossed about in the maelstrom winds around him. The storm then unleashed a solid wall of torrential rain and hail, which stopped within minutes, as if he passed beyond the curtain of a waterfall.

That was quick. Another succession of wind gusts threatened to push him off the highway. “Pity the bloody wind didn’t stop too.”

He scanned each of the rear-view mirrors, the road ahead, and then glancing upward, his eyes caught the tumultuous clouds twisting into an electrified, reversed vortex.

What the fuck?

He divided his attention between driving and looking up into the swirling inverted funnel laced with strings of crisscrossing energy.

“No way…” he whispered in reverent awe. Must be a trick of the lightning. “Time to be somewhere else I reckon.” When Ried increased his pressure on the accelerator every light in his car flared into life seconds before the fuse box, mounted under the dashboard, exploded in a crackling series of fizzling sparks.

His car died.

Shit. He tore off his jacket and batted the spitting flames, and then threw his ruined jacket across the car. The sharp, pungent odor of burned wire and plastic smoke clawed at his throat and lungs, and with no fuses he could not open the window for any fresh air.

“Damn it. Fucking electric windows.”

More lightning burst from the cloud’s funnel. The flashes rent apart the slate gray of the night.

Alone in the lifeless vehicle, Ried found himself hypnotized by the electrical tempest outside.

None of the arcing bolts touched the ground. Instead, the ribbons of energy curved back into the funnel without a single clap of thunder. Everything he heard outside sounded like the sky suffered a massive short circuit.

The car rocked and bucked from the increasing wind and battering from small airborne bushes and trees. He cringed when a shrub screeched and scraped across the bonnet.

When each returning bolt of light struck the funnel wall, an explosion followed by a gunshot blast to create dozens of micro-supernovae. Every one of those eruptions spawned hundreds of smaller bolts, glowing with the vibrant hues of the rainbow.

“Jesus. The whole fucking sky’s gone mad!”

An unremitting dread crawled up from Ried’s subconscious. He pictured the spiraling maw evolving into a ravenous monster, sent to feed on his fears and himself.

Instead, the world outside disappeared, hidden behind a mass of swirling fog pulsing with iridescent lightning. The mist and obsidian-colored clouds churned faster. The walls of its vortex pulsed in indigo, purples, and brilliant greens. The wind continued to assault the car.

Holy mother of– The sight of the glowing tempest changing dynamics stretched his beliefs.

The debris and fog gyrating around his car started to disappear within the inhaling vortex. Within minutes, only the droplets on the windshield, and the shallow puddles decorating the bitumen gave evidence of the storm’s brief deluge.

What the– He followed several drops climbing up the glass. In disbelief, he looked on, intrigued by the upward flow of the water. The area around the car grew lighter with each passing second. He tried to open the door, but when the fuses blew the surge locked the doors. “Fuck and FUCK.”

With the darkness turning to light, he jammed himself hard against the windscreen, to better see the sky above the car. In the distant apex of the funnel shone an alabaster glow.

Ried threw his arms and hands over his face. The cloud’s inner wall flared into the blue-green fire, encircling the catapulted alabaster light. Bolts of energy spat out from the turquoise flames and assaulted the car and road. His body tingled and itched. Discharges of static electricity latticed his skin with every move he made. Ried couldn’t think. He couldn’t speak. He could only scream.

With a sudden jolt, the front of the car began to angle upward. He ignored the pin-prick stabs of pain and clutched the steering wheel. The back of the car see-sawed as the field of electrostatic energy faded. Ried braced himself, expecting the tornado to lift and hurl his car into the surrounding bush.

Instead, the car launched upward, and the sudden g-forces slammed him back into his seat. A nerve-splitting sensation of a muscle tearing in his shoulder’s radial joint convulsed down his arm.

Pinned by the seatbelt, his head, arms, and legs, swung wildly about as the car flipped and spun out of control, swept deeper into the vortex on ribbons of ionized flame. Winded, stunned, and whiplashed, Ried, lurched forward with the abrupt head-spinning sensation of weightlessness and threw up.

Around the car, the green flames changed in hue. The funnel filled with white and purple fire. Bolts of energy whiplashed the hapless vehicle.

“No fucking way…”

A reflected image in the rear-view mirror showed a brief glimpse of the Western Queensland highway shrinking behind a closing iris of emerald fire.

The misshapen globules of his vomit merged into one larger spheroid. Ried pushed his open palm against the foul-smelling orb. His fingers slipped past the thin, oily film, into the bile and gastric juice decorated with his semi-digested meal. His stomach heaved.

The rising temperature seared his throat and lungs. Ried felt like a piece of meat in a microwave. His nose burned from the rancid fumes of heated vomit. His mind threatened to shut down from the unyielding abuse hurled at his senses.

Then, the brutal force of gravity returned, multiplied tenfold. The car and its unexpected drop snapped the seatbelt. Ried’s lungs expelled their air like a bursting balloon. The gelatinous mass of vomit ruptured against his chest. His head slammed into the front driver’s side door pillar with an appalling smack.

The last thing Ried recalled was the way the vortex turned itself inside out and spat the car out in a halo of tangerine fire. His expelled vehicle crashed on its side amidst torrential wind and rain, jarring open the rear driver’s side door and shattering the windows sending glass, mud, and water into the rocking car.

Tangled between the front seats and steering wheel, bleeding, and coated in his vomit, Ried passed out to the sound of rain hammering the car.

***

The light washed away the blackness of his brief coma. He tried to open his eyes, but only one would obey the instruction. A shadow emerged, surrounded by a flaring corona. Ried blinked several times with his uninjured eye until the grey shape dissolved into the face of an older man in his late fifties. His tanned face had deep laugh lines, with a mustache under a long equine nose protruding down between a pair of piercing blue-gray eyes.

Ried’s head followed the man who moved beside him. He tried speaking, but only a raspy croak escaped from his dry throat.

“Ah, you are awake.” The old man rested his hand on Ried’s shoulder and peered down with a tilted smile. “Easy, son. Just lay still, hey.” With gentle, steady hands, the old man lifted Ried to allow a small trickle of water to flow from a chipped enameled mug to moisten his lips and tongue. “You’re lucky we spotted you and your car this far off the road.” The old man tipped the cup again. “I’m sorry, but until Doc Mitchum’s had a look at you, I can’t risk giving you any more.” He lowered Ried’s head and placed a wet cloth on the younger man’s forehead.

Ried let his head roll to the side so he could survey the area around where he lay. It looks like an old, dry floodplain. Looking around through the translucent waves of dry heat, he noticed the distorted shapes of several small trees and shrubs taking root in the compacted silt and rock deposits.

More sound and movement near his wrecked car drew Ried’s attention back to his rescuer, who shaded his eyes against the morning sun. Ried wanted to shade his eyes from the hot sun as well, but instead, his vision blurred, before he fell into an exhausted deep sleep.

 

 

3

 

The old man wiped away a trickle of sweat running down his neck with his sun-tanned hand. Several hours had passed since they pulled the injured man from his wrecked car. He looked at the young crash victim and chided himself for not shading the young man from the late morning’s heat. Gently, the old man placed his worn slouch hat over Ried’s face.

The man unfolded a tarp beside Ried and sorted several of the branches he had collected earlier into size groups. He brushed his hands against his gray denim pants, rolled up the sleeves of his khaki drill shirt, and set about building a shelter over Ried. When he fixed the last rope in place, the old man turned at the scrape of footsteps through the dirt.

A younger man in his late teens stepped into view from behind the wreck. The old man reached down, removed his hat from Ried’s forehead, and turned toward the thin teenager, whose cheeks showed deep craters from acne scars. He never understood why his son kept his black hair so long. It needed tying off in a shoulder-length ponytail

His son’s face twisted into a frown above his mahogany-brown eyes. “Why bother with the shelter? We should take what we can and leave him here. I mean, he’s almost dead anyway.”

The father sighed heavily. “And what if a Vigiles patrol found him?” He tested the last tie-down. “No, Nicholas, we are not leaving him here. Besides, do you know what Gallio would do to him?”

“Who cares?” Nicholas shrugged. “We don’t know him, and if he’s stupid enough to crash, then let Gallio find him.”

A shrill whistle carried across the floodplain. The father and son turned to see the blurred figure of a man leading a horse and cart through the shimmering air.

“Jack, and about bloody time, too.” When the father reached Jack, he snatched the reins. “I thought you were getting help.”

Jack ignored the father and squatted in the lean-to’s shade and wrinkled his nose. “Strewth, Dom. It smells like horse shit and old oil.”

“Don’t worry about the tarp. What about the help?”

“Sorry, mate.” Jack shrugged. “Everybody’s getting a tad more nervous with the increased patrols, and those who aren’t don’t want to waste their gas.” He gave Dom a cheeky grin before finishing. “I managed to get hold of Doc Mitchum, though.” He nodded toward the cart. “After that, I decided to get the horse and cart. I figure it’s less conspicuous than your old flatbed.”

“Fair enough.” Dom looked disappointed. “Since Gallio and his pit bull arrived, the whole bloody region’s too afraid to do much of anything.”

Ignored by the two men, Nicholas strolled across to lay under the cart, where he crossed his arms behind his head and closed his eyes.

Jack raised an eyebrow at Nicholas’s dismissive behavior but said nothing. Standing next to the Dom, Jack outsized his friend in bulk and height, but unlike Dom, he sported a full beard and a thick mop of curly, dark red hair, streaked with gray from the temples.

“I don’t wanna question you on this.” Jack scratched his chin.

“But you’re going to,” Dom sighed.

“Damn right, I will.” Jack waved his hand toward the road. “With all the extra bloody patrols looking for those friggin’ nomads,” he said, “are you sure taking him back with us is the best idea?” Jack turned to study the sleeping man. “Besides, would he even make the bloody trip back to town?”

“For the love of–” Dom threw his arms skyward. “I’ll tell you what I bloody well told Nicholas.” He jabbed a finger toward the sleeping Ried. “We are not leaving him here.” He pushed his hat back on his head. “Besides, Julia would never forgive me.”

“Okay, mate.” Jack headed over to Ried’s car, “I suppose you’ve considered the fact he could be one of ’em?” He strolled around the wrecked vehicle. “I mean, this isn’t your average bloody junker.”

“Yes, the car’s different, and yes, he might be a damn Roman,” Dom regarded his friend, “but the lad’s hurt and needs help. Our help,” Dom emphasized. “Anything else we will sort out later.”

“Fair enough.” Jack shrugged as he placed a fresh, damp cloth on Ried’s head.

Dom smiled at his friend and whispered, “You’re such a tosser.” He moved across to horse. “Come on you two,” He said grabbing the reins. “Nicholas, bring the machete and axe, will you?”

“Why?”

“I reckon your old man plans on hiding the wreck ’til later.”

“And let’s hope we haven’t lost our knack at concealment,” Dom quipped.

“Here’s hoping.” Jack flicked his thumb toward Ried. “What I wanna know is where you’re gonna hide our injured friend.”

“My place.” Dom walked past Jack and patted his shoulder. “We’ll take him there after Tom’s had a look at him.”

“Doc Mitchum won’t be happy.” Jack passed his eye over Ried. “He’ll want to make sure the blokes not sashed up inside.”

“When we get back to the farm I’ll send for Jennings and his portable X-ray unit–”

“Struth, now you wanna involve the vet.” Jack laughed at his friend. “I can’t wait till you tell old Mitchum that.”

“Don’t worry about Tom. I’ll sort him out,” Dom said.

“Anyway, just where at your place are you putting him?”

“We can put him in Julia’s day cottage.”

“Julia’s cottage?”

“I know what you’re thinking, but Abbey’s been cleaning the place up for a while now.”

“And I suppose you’re gonna get her to play nursemaid with our new friend.”

“I’m sure she’ll agree to it.”

“Well, I don’t fucking agree with it,” Nicholas spat.

“No one asked you, and mind your tongue.” Dom shook his head and ventured out through the simmering heat to harvest some trees.

“I don’t care what my father says,” Nicholas complained. “I agree with you.” He studied Jack. “We should take what we can and leave him for the crows.”

“Who said anything about taking his stuff?”

“I don’t get why my father’s always helping everybody,” Nicholas grumbled in a petulant tone, “or sticking his nose in other people’s business.”

“Sticking his nose in…” Jack drove his finger into the younger man’s shoulder. “You bloody well know how much your old man’s respected around here.”

“Oh, yes, the great hero of The Wars,” Nicholas sneered. “You know, the only reason he helps everyone else is because he feels guilty about losing to the Romans.”

“Guilty…” Jack’s spun around with narrowed eyes. “The only thing he should feel guilty about is bloody well having you.”

Nicholas dropped the tools and tried to take a step away from the big man, but Jack’s arm whipped out to grab his collar.

“And when it comes to helping others out,” Jack wrenched Nicholas closer, “it’s his nature.” He shook his head in pity. “What you don’t see is people asking him for help.” He shoved Nicholas backward and retrieved the tools. “Come on. We’d better catch up to your father.”

After returning to the crash site with the harvested trees and shrubs, Dom asked his son to strip the car of any luggage, papers and loose items to load in the cart and take back to the farm, while he and Jack waited for DR. Mitchum.

“I still reckon we leave him for the crows and sell off his stuff,” Nicholas grumbled aloud.

“And just head straight back home,” Dom said, “I don’t want you going anywhere in town or the pub with that lot.”

While Dom and Jack busied themselves with the collection of cut trees and shrubs, Nicholas did what his father asked and then climbed into the cart and rode across the floodplain.

Out on the road, Nicholas cast a spiteful glance at Jack and his father. “I don’t care what he said. Any driver who crashes his car that far from the road deserves to die. Which he will. So, why not sell his stuff and make some extra coin?” Nicholas pondered aloud.

The horse’s only response was to swish his tail to swat the flies tickling his rump.

Nicholas calculated what he would get for the stranger’s belongings. Whatever he got would at least keep him stocked up with ‘E’ for another week, and plus while he was in town he could spend more time with Gemma.

Proud of his disobedient and selfish decision, Nicholas relaxed on the cart’s bench and flicked the reins to bring the animal to a trot.

***

A company of Roman motorbikes drove over a small rise above the floodplain. Leading them was the largest motorcycle, supporting an open framed sidecar whose passenger waved and bounced around.

“Stop, Praefectus. STOP. This is the area,” he bubbled with excitement. “Yes, yes. This is the spot.” With extended arms, he lifted an encyclopedia-size scanner and waved it back and forth in a series of long and short arcs. With each pass, the excitable Roman scrutinized the twitching needles and readouts on a small screen.

Near the center of the screen, a bright green blip of light blinked so fast it almost became a solid dot. The little Roman launched himself out of his seat before the bike had even slowed to a complete stop.

Unlike his excited passenger, the rider dismounted his war bike with the arrogant, self-righteous ease of someone long schooled in the art of military discipline and used to being in command. An ornate plumed helmet sat upon a chiseled, neoclassical face crowned in trimmed, dark black-brown hair. His deeply set, light-brown eyes scanned the area and each of the remaining dull-red Vigiles bikes when they pulled over in a protective cordon.

The lead bike, unlike the red of the ubiquitous squad bikes, reflected the morning sun from its deep blue gloss paint. Various effigies and symbols decorated the forward cowlings, the most dominant, an embossed golden Aquila on each side above the protruding barrels of twin-mounted semi-automatic machine guns.

With a sense of pride, he admired the bikes and their riders. The praefectus derived immense pleasure from reinstating what he called “lapsed discipline” over the last five years since his appointment by Marcus, his predecessor.

The praefectus, like his men, wore lightweight composite body armor. Segmented manica covered his shoulders, held in place by six buckled straps, three along each flank. The sculptured chest and stomach section reflected the sun, as did the polished alloy grieves protecting his shins above thick soled, lace-up boots.

He wiped the dust from his boots and grieves before he cast an eye over the surrounding scrubland. “I don’t see anything unusual,” he sounded bored, yet his body language suggested he was annoyed. He folded the cloth into the pocket of his burgundy tunic. To relieve the tension of the ride, he stretched his stocky, muscular body, and rolled his shoulders. The sculpted body armor flexed, and the leather manicas protecting his shoulders and upper arms squeaked in reply to his actions.

His passenger’s excitement at an anticipated discovery aroused a higher level of confidence in him.

“Yes, well, what we seek may be more than unusual.”

The praefectus adjusted the cingulum militare around his waist. “You forget yourself, Decius. I’m not one of your lab rats.”

Decius shuffled backward and tipped his head in mute subjugation. Unlike the praefectus, Decius did not wear the standard blue and reds of the military or Vigiles. He wore the uniform of the science auxiliaries: a dark green one-piece and a bright green sash draped across his left shoulder.

“Forgive me, Praefectus Gallio.” Decius kowtowed and then rushed to keep pace.

Even though Gallio, who held the role of regional governor, wore no weapons, Decius still feared him. He stepped away and offered a comical but nervous salute, before adjusting his black box until the screen produced a different image.

Excited by the result, Decius took out a metal rod from his pouch and connected it to the scanning unit using a coiled cable. With one arm cradling the scanner, and the wand held in the other, he scuttled about the area and crisscrossed the road, adjusting his oversized, wire-rimmed glasses repeatedly.

The sound of two approaching bikes took the praefectus’s attention away from the fidgety little scientist. Gallio returned to his bike, placed his helmet on the handlebars, and waited for the latecomers to pull over.

“You two fell behind. Why?”

“Praefectus, my bike developed a malfunction in the motor,” MacMahon snapped to attention with a brisk salute, “and while repairing it, we spotted a horse and cart in a gully, sir.”

With a cold regard, Gallio studied the two men standing at attention before him. Since MacMahon’s recruitment, the young human proved himself to be a competent and useful lieutenant. MacMahon showed a useful talent for extracting payments from many of the weaker businesses and farm owners.

Donaldson was a good choice for a Vigiles. The younger human held a certain naivety for upholding the law, and all the legitimate duties of the Roman police force. But he, and the rest of Gallios’ display troops, were guided away from the darker side of the local Vigiles business.

“It seemed abandoned,” MacMahon finished.

“Abandoned?”

“I believe it belonged to a farmer or gypsy who’d stopped for a pi–… to relieve himself in the bush.”

“Did you see this farmer or gypsy?”

“Um, no, sir.” MacMahon tried to hide his embarrassment. “They must’ve been deeper in the bush, poaching.”

“I want you to continue down the road,” Gallio commanded, “and investigate the gypsy camp near Yarraman. After which, you can go back to where you saw the cart and search for the missing owner.”

“And if it’s gone, sir?”

“You search for it,” Gallio continued, “and submit a full report to Mettius when you return to the barracks.”

MacMahon glanced toward the Roman centurion Gallio had referred to. Out of habit, and from a measure of fear, MacMahon stiffened slightly and shuddered inwardly when the praefectus castrorum stood back from his bike and adjusted the braided, blood-red insignia sash under his sword belt.

Gallio raised the corner of his mouth at the change in body language displayed by the two humans when his second-in-command approached. The centurion’s tall, lean muscular frame moved with lithe, predatory grace, and his silent, watchful, emotionless manner, unnerved those around him. Perhaps, it’s his haunting black-on-black eyes.

Mettius, Gallio learned through time, cared little for people and their opinions about him. They either respected him, feared him, or died by his hand.

With twenty Romans like Mettius, the Senate and proconsul would understand what power truly meant. Gallio found it difficult to hide his pride for Mettius, who, unlike himself, always carried his small arsenal of weapons. On his hip hung a gladius, and on the other sat a pugio – the traditional Roman sword and dagger – along with a semi-automatic carbine pistol holstered under his left armpit. Gallio’s second-in-command proved to be the epitome of a humanoid predator. In fact, few matched Mettius’s skill with sword, shield, dagger, and gun.

A shadow crossed the ground near his feet. Gallio shifted his gaze upward to admire a circling eagle. Ah, what better creature to signal good fortune. Without taking his eyes from the bird, he dismissed MacMahon and Donaldson, while Mettius issued instructions for setting up the portable command tent.

“Praefectus.” Mettius pointed toward a small, odd-looking collection of shrubs.

“Well spotted, my friend,” Gallio replied. When they arrived at the concealed wreck, he inspected the camouflage screen. “This screening shows a skill I’ve not seen in decades. I don’t believe this handiwork is nomad or gypsy.”

Mettius focused on the ground at his feet and crouched on his haunches. “Whoever they were, there were at least three men and some sort of vehicle.”

Gallio looked from his second-in-command to Decius, who trotted his way across the dry, dusty plain.

“Have you found somethin–” The little scientist stopped with a squeal, and his feet skidded in the loose dirt. The scanner jostled in his frightened hands, and he hugged it against his chest to keep it from falling.

A cruel smile creased Gallio’s face. He felt sure the annoying little man came close to emptying his bowels and bladder.

Seconds before Decius’s squeal, Mettius sprang from his crouch with whiplash speed, drew his pistol, and pointed it unwaveringly at Decius.

“Decius, if you come running in without announcing yourself again,” Gallio approached the quivering man, “I will let Mettius shoot you.”

“With absolute delight, sir,” Mettius whispered in icy pleasure, effortlessly holstering his sidearm, leaving his hand resting on its grip to further intimidate Decius.

“Oh, my… Please forgive me, Praefectus.” Decius dipped his head and gave a feeble, shaky salute before he helped dismantle the camouflage screen.

At the sight of Ried’s car, Decius bobbed up and down in glee. “A gift from the gods…Yes, indeed. A gift of the gods.” Decius walked around the smashed SUV. “Indeed, a blessed gift from the gods… Yes. Yes, a blessed gift.” The little scientist fidgeted with his scanner. “There is no residual radioactivity, or other harmful emissions, or bacteria.”

The trio then rocked the car until it stood upright on its four wheels. Gallio and Mettius stepped back to avoid the resulting small dust cloud. Decius opened every door to inspect the car’s interior before he raised its unlatched hood, propping it open with a nearby stick.

Decius almost drooled in salacious delight when he explored, touched, sniffed, and scanned the engine bay. “This is some type of combustion motor, but nothing I have seen before.”

Engrossed in the mysteries of their find, Decius ignored his two superiors and started speaking to the voice recorder on his scanner. He described the style of electronics, the unusual manifold and exhaust system, and the lack of a conventional carburetor. Decius abandoned the engine bay. He wandered around the car, finding, and cataloging the differences between Ried’s SUV and the older vehicles in current use.

Mettius, who had little time for the small ferret of a scientist, walked away and scrutinized the ground around the car. “Sir.”

Gallio looked to where Mettius stood, studying the ground between the road and the car. “You’ve found something else?”

Mettius pointed to the faint tracks imprinted in the dirt. “Someone tried concealing their tracks. These tracks look like a van’s, or a small truck, and over here…” he drew Gallio’s attention toward the right, “I’d say by the hoof prints and thin tracks, they also used some sort of small wagon.”

“A cart.” Gallio looked at Mettius. “MacMahon told me they came across one hidden by the road on the way here.” He motioned Mettius to follow him to where his men had set up the open gazebo. Once under its shade, he asked for the map bag from his bike. “Something else is odd,” he thought out loud. “Why is there no evidence showing the car being driven off the road?”

“The storm may have washed the tracks away.”

“Normally, I would agree, if the storm had brought more rain.”

“Then how did it get so far off the road without driving or crashing there?” Mettius asked. “It certainly didn’t fall from the sky.”

“Excuse me, sir.” Decius cautiously approached them from behind. “It shouldn’t be ruled out.” He hesitated. “Of course, what I have is only a theory.”

“Enlighten us,” said Gallio.

Not often in such a bright spotlight, Decius’s nervous manner went into overdrive. The Roman scientist bobbed and fidgeted as he explained his theories. He reiterated the vehicle and how different it is, and where it sat on the broad floodplain, so far from the road. He believed that the car had traveled through a rupture in space and time itself.

To help add weight to his arguments, Decius darted to the sidecar. The scientist rummaged around until he produced a canvas carry bag. He rushed back and emptied the contents of the bag onto the table. Shuffling the documents, he showed them readouts and reports printed from the weather instruments.

“The most interesting anomalies recorded all came from the sonar, pyranometer, and ceilometer systems during the storm,” Decius said. “The accumulated data showed unique electromagnetic fluctuations, along with a range of abnormal gravity and atmospheric anomalies.”

“What anomalies could come from just a storm?” Mettius’s face twisted with scorn. “Ruptures in space and time – they’re dreams of playwrights and fools.” He looked toward Gallio, ignoring Decius. “For thousands of years, the Empire had sailed between the stars, conquering countless worlds. Yet, no one had ever recorded a hole in the galaxy…” The centurion dismissed Decius with a contemptuous glare, “…because they don’t exist.”

“You know this… how?” Decius’s tone surprised himself. “I meant no offense, Praefectus Castrorum.” The chubby little scientist cowered away from the returning glare of Mettius. “I’m merely trying to explain a theory.” Decius produced several of the fused lumps he had collected from around the car.

“So, now you collect rocks?” Mettius scoffed.

“These are not rocks.” Decius sighed. “They are the result of some form of plasma energy striking the ground.” He sighed again. “My report will explain it all, including my findings on the vehicle.”

“Decius, I’ve known you a long time,” Gallio smiled humorously, “but this is the most fanciful theory you have ever had.”

“Do you remember the records and scrolls from Novicus Patria?” Decius continued, regardless of their ignorance and mockery.

“What about them?” Mettius sat on a folding chair, leaning against the armrest, and resting his head against his open hand.

“They told the legend of the ninth legion, who fell from the heavens amidst a tunnel of fire and lightning, summoned in battle by the heathen Brittany gods of the wood,” Decius’s face flushed with reverence, “cast across the heavens, and reborn to create the first founding.” Decius knew his paraphrasing of the ancient scriptures sounded like a priest’s sermon, but he wanted the military-minded brute beside Gallio to accept the possibility.

“Your point, Decius?” sighed Gallio.

“I believe the car, and whoever its occupants were, came through a similar dimensional portal which bore our ancestors.”

Decius took a reflexive step backward when he saw the disapproving look on Gallio’s face. He considered offering further explanations, but instead, the scientist fidgeted and shuffled his feet.

“Decius, I will feed you to Cerberus if you don’t keep still.”

“Yes, Praefectus. I’m sorry, Praefectus. But, um, well…”

“By all the gods, man. Just say it.”

“The vehicle, sir.”

“What about it?”

“Surely, we aren’t going to, well… leave it out here?”

“For a clever little man,” Gallio replied, “you can be remarkably stupid.”

Decius’s face blossomed into a livid red flush at the insult. He tried out-staring Gallio, but his miserable attempt at defiance waned under the strength of Gallio’s returning gaze.

“Of course, I’ll have it brought back so you can play with it.” Gallio pushed out his chair and paused to consider the map. He left the cluttered table and made his way toward the edge of the gazebo’s shade. With his arms behind his back, he contemplated the strange-looking car on the mud plain. “Do you know how many occupants there were?”

“No, not until I run more tests.”

“Well, somebody does.” Gallio returned to the table and focused on the maps with Mettius at his side.

Decius stood and waited, ignored by the two men who stayed bent over the map chart, continuing their discussion. Hurt by his superior’s rudeness, Decius saluted their backs and exited the gazebo to continue with his onsite studies of the car.

Gallio peered over his shoulder toward the exiting scientist. “First, have our spies concentrate on the Yarraman gypsy camp and see what they know,” he commanded, before returning his attention to the map.

“I’m assuming you want the farms searched.”

“Start with the closest – those three there – and then move on to the abandoned properties.”

“Two full cohorts split into four groups should be enough.”

“Agreed,” Gallio said. “This will be an ideal opportunity for purging the region of any nomads. It will also send a clear message to any others who would follow.”

Mettius nodded with a cold, dead smile. “Burn the whole body rather than cut off the head.”

“As for the farmers, there is a need for more discretion. The town council grows more suspicious with each passing week about our other activities. Instruct the others to hold off on our collections and filter down the sale of Enlightenment for a few weeks, until we find who or what we are looking for. Then, flood the market with E’s and increase the price by fifty percent to cover what we’ll lose.”

“Won’t the loss of revenue raise issues with our supplier?”

“I’ll use some of our reserve funds to cover any shortfall. The last thing we need is our benefactor, or his committee in Toowoomba, poking their noses around.” Gallio rested his finger on the map. “I will call and talk to this one myself.” He moved around the table and stared across the floodplain again. “Have the trackers brought back here,” he instructed over his shoulder. “I want the surrounding terrain searched for at least five kilometers.”

“By your command.” Mettius saluted and headed toward his parked motorbike.

ATTENTION… ATTENTION!!!

Hello all. Did the heading get your attention? I hope so because I will be releasing a preview of Terror Australis a few chapters at a time over the next few weeks.

OMG! Why?

Well, the answer to the question is a little of a multi-faceted response.

To begin with, I have the manuscript entered in a competition which won’t allow any published version with a barcode or ISBN, but chapters released via blogs etc are okay.

Also for the majority of the last thirty months, I have sweated and swore over the manuscript from start to the last recent copy edit. so I feel, taking above into account, my story needs to visit the world beyond. By doing this I hope to receive a more expanded and open field of feedback.

The Millenium Falcon build started…

The one thing about working on this kit is it forcing me to buy a cordless Dremel called a Micro. All I can say is Wow and Wow! Why didn’t I get this earlier? The tool is light, easy to use and the variable speeds are a godsend for working on styrene.

Micro Dremel

Alright. Now I am armed with my new toy, I set to work on grinding back the remainder of thick edges and then continued to address some of the models other issues.

I made the conscious decision from the onset to replace as much of the poorly molded piping detail as I could. Especially going to the exposed inset sections on the mandibles and back section of the hull; those I had already addressed in my previous post. I also reshaped the out of scale verticle flat things on the top of each inner section of the mandibles and replaced the piping along the outer edges.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Then when I was reasonably satisfied with those efforts I tweaked the top of the walkway areas to fix the three circular vents. This meant drilling and grinding out the molded areas and replacing those with some brass photo-etch grills. I also scratch built the tops of the vet housings because I felt those molded on the model were again a little large and out of scale. I then used ca glue to add some black vinyl behind the see-through mesh.

The next thing I wanted to address was the battle and impact damage over the top hull. So with engraving bits, sanding drums, files, an exacto knife and sections of styrene sheet, I set to work using the reference pictures I have as a guide. To achieve the punctured hull look I needed to grind away the plastic from the inside of the model until it was paper thin. For the four bigger holes, I used a thin marker to draw the holes before I dialed back the Dremel’s speed, and carved them away with the engraving bit. Then I glued in some thin plasticard behind them and repeated the process with smaller holes and then glued in the final backing piece. The area above the starboard mandible I literally attack with the engraving bit to replicate the torn and shattered pipes and hull. The big concave dent was done using a semi-pointed grinding bit. All the smaller holes were achieved with a tiny drill bit and the tip of my exacto knife.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The next part was adding the 3D printed fuel towers and thruster veins. Did I mention how fragile printed plastic is? No. Well, they are. I discovered this while washing the parts to remove excess oils and residues from handling and printing.

.Once the parts were clean and dry I reboxed them. Carefully. Then, I started adding the pieces over the areas I previously ground away. Unfortunately what you don’t get with the parts is an instruction sheet on what glues to use… Thank god for the world wide web and professor Google. I also found out that though the printed parts are exquisite in detail they are not an exact plug n play. It is just as well I have a little bit of model assembly and building experience…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Millenium Falcon build… What to do? Where to start?

Two questions in the header above and both are loaded. Eventually, I decided to start on the engine and exhaust vent area as this is the part I think has the softest detail. Now, I already received the new thruster veins. So I bit the blaster and gathered my little grinder, files, sanding sticks and attacked the plastic. to remove all the thruster veins and fuel towers; which are still in transit.

When that nerve shattering process was done I started removing some of the detail on the back quarter to replace with extra greeblies and brass wire. One goal here is to where ever possible, get a look similar to the five-foot model used for Star Wars ‘A New Hope.’ This is where more of the 3d parts from Tony at 308 bits come in.

20180430_174707

The clear piece is 3d printed and comes pretty damn close to the filming hero. The resin piece on the right is part of the older accurizing kit.  Another area to sand away are the two small vent things above the resin piece. I think the molders at MPC used parts from the R2D2 kits; what were they thinking?

So after more grinding and sanding, along with my tongue pinched between my teeth for added concentration, I set about adding additional detail using more things from the bits box and donated parts from a couple of 1/72 German WWII tank kits. and resin parts from the original MMI kit. The PE grill still needs to be added over the vents. However, that will happen after I have painted the inside of them. I may yet add more detail to this area, but as it stands I happy with the look when compared to an image of the original filming miniature.

 

Next on the list is grinding away some of the pipework on the exposed sections of the hull which had little definition. As well as grinding down the thick plastic on the hulls edges to better replicate the thin plated look.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Bear in mind this is only the top hull and the back half at that. Which means I’m in for a long project…

The next project… An old MPC Millenium Falcon

 

20180521_195706

Many years back I did this kit after the first Star Wars films merchandise was released to the world. this was the second generation of kits released after Lukes X-Wing, C3-P0, R2D2, the latter two I still have standing in my shelves, and Vaders Tie fighter. Unfortunately back then this was the only representation of Han Solo’s iconic ship. Since then though, there has been the AMC Re-Release, the Finemolds 1/72 Falcon, a 144th scale version, a magazine week by week kit and Bandai’s latest 1/72 scale Perfect Grade kit. Sadly, all of these latter iterations prove how inaccurate the original MPC kits were. However, in some fairness to the original MPC sculptors of almost forty years ago. They didn’t have the all the fandom and abundant resource material available to them as we do in our digital world. Hence the kits soft detail and abundant inaccuracies, e.g the oversized side walls and the flatter shape of the hull.

Still, over the years’ many modelers and fans have built this kit straight from the box, as I once did, with excellent paint jobs; mine not so back then. And over time there have been many aftermarket parts to help assemble a model which resembles what we saw on the big screen.

However, since my initial purchase of the kit from eBay and the aftermarket resin and photo-etch parts from Blue Moon and Millenium Models almost eight years back,

the science of 3d printing has helped change what modelers can achieve. Something I only realized after pulling the old box and extras while procrastinating over whether or not I should start on the model. Yep, you guessed it. Out with the old and in with the new. Well not completely out. Some of the old pre-purchased parts I will still use. The rest, will either be recycled or stored in the bits box for later. the parts below I smuggled in via UPS from  https://www.shapeways.com/shops/308bits?li=pb&page%5Bnumber%5D=5&page%5Blimit%5D=48&page%5Border%5D=asc

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The above pictures are not mine, they are from his site.

A sense of relief…

I know the general consensus states to write the first draft, no matter how bad it may be. Well, the minute part of my psyche containing a hint of OCD occasionally acts as a sea anchor, which stalls me until I get things in a better shape. But this morning I have, after getting things back on course with chapters 15,16 and 17. I decided to haul in the anchor and crack on to finish last nights session with over 70k words on Bread & Circuses. OH Yeah… Oh Yeah…

31″ Nautilus W.I.P build part Seven. Painting the model

And we are in the final quarter… Painting to model.

Painting a large model sounds easy uh? grab some rattle cans from the hardware, auto or model shop. Apply a bit of masking tape and spray away!  Which if you want a clean one-dimensional finish much like you would find in a museum case, then that’s what you could do, but not me.

This may be a model of a fictional sub from a science fiction novel published 1874 century and then adapted to a Walt Disney film in 1954. By the way, the Harper Goff Nautilus from the movie bears little resemblance to Jules Verne’s submarine. Yet the later version is by far the most recognizable and iconic adaption. But I digress.

Both versions are from the era of the ironclad ships used in the later quarter of the 19th century. So, this was my starting resource for designing a paint scheme. I say designing because there is no actual boat to use a resource. Oh out there in the wild old internet, there is copious amounts of information, pictures, ideas and theories about what and how the filming miniatures were painted. However which one do you use. The hero model was finished with painted sheet copper and brass. Many of the live deck sets were made of wood and let us not forget about the age of any celluloid images which change through time.

Is my finished models color scheme correct? I like to think so.

Now, of course, it is not just about the paint. There is the weathering process to add to the realism, and as an added challenge paint and weathering changes with scale. Ahh, model making is such fun.

The previous posts show the model covered in the grey primer to help find the defects and give a sound surface to lay down the top coats. Now, while grey undercoats are common, it is not always the best color for a base coat. Why? because certain different primer colors can have an influence on the top coats. Whites are ideal for most bright colors such as red, green, yellow or blues. However, if you want to make those colors richer you could use a buff-toned undercoat. If you want them to look dull or dirty then darker undercoats are used. This principle is no different for metallic based paints, which is what I used as the primary colors.

I say colors because there are, from memory, three different metallics I made for this model. For most of my paint, I tend to use Tamiya acrylics, but I also use Gunze, the Games Workshop range, Humbrol, and Life Colour. This time I used the Tamiya bronzes, copper and dark iron. The first image is a test shot of the base color with a rust wash. The one on the left is taken with a flash the other one is with natural light.Colour test

You can see in the picture below I had already masked off the lights with blobs of blue-tack and covered the open window in tissue and masking tape. The Wheelhouse lights and windows I coated in a latex masking solution. Now because I wanted a dirty darker look for my top coats I used several light coats of flat black. P1000691

Before going to town on the main model I used the skiff to continue testing my color scheme. I’m not sure I mentioned it in an earlier piece, but the rudder, tiller arms and tiller cables are pieces I added. To give you an idea on the scale the diameter of the paint pot is about thirty millimeters. The top picture is the base coat and the bottom is the basic rust washes and light dry brushingP1000687P1000693

This is a shot of the model after the primary base colors were airbrushed on.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I then left the whole thing to dry for a couple of days so the paint would fully cure prior to applying the weathering effects as per these YouTube videos.

here are some stills of the painting stages and some of the finished model. For those with a keen eye, you will notice the coloring on the top half of the sub is different. This is the area above the waterline where the metals would have oxidized at a different rate to the rest of the hull constantly under the water. In one picture you can see the bottom hatch wheel. I had to scratch built that piece after the original fell off. the last couple shows the interior lights for the saloon and wheelhouse. To reach the finished piece the project took eleven weeks with an average of five hours a day. because I was recovering from a broken vertebra and tailbone I could only manage five hours broken up through the day rather than my usual manic five hours in one sitting.  I also airbrushed a clear flat called Dullcote on the light covers to help hide the led’s, which also helps to diffuse their light.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.