by Jack Grant

N.B. What is on display here is a first rough skeletal draft posted for copyright purposes.

It is now a full novel and part of an ongoing trilogy which is all to be expanded.

Chapter I

Cutting through the clear blue sky the great steamship thundered onwards, its heavy churning engines roared and at intermittent intervals it unashamedly announced its presence to the world with a deep bass overture of sound. With each blast of its steam-horn a rainbow of coloured vapours mingled with the wind, a streamlined contrast to the white of the clouds.

This cacophony of noise and colour caught the attention of a young man casually strolling through the fields below. He followed a track flanked by golden wheat grass gently swaying in the breeze, wafting the enchanting scent of freshly baked bread. The aroma teased at his senses, the fragrance wholesome and good.

The golden grasses gifted him a crown; a temporary halo reflected upon the short dark hair of his head, as he gazed skywards at the wonder high above.

He wore a bright white t-shirt and vivid red shorts in stark contrast to the golden backdrop of undulating grains. A number of bumble bees buzzed about him, perhaps attracted by the bold shades of his clothes.

Vance often conversed with the bees, their thoughts being just as sweet as their honey; rich, deep and sugared with a simple kindness, but on this occasion he bid them a loving farewell, closed his eyes for a moment, muttering under his breath as if casting a spell. He then gazed skywards to the sight of the ship and in a calm clear voice he spoke, "To the Steamsters." With that his form disappeared as if it had never been.

The airship's themed venue teemed with life, its marble dance floor heavy with people, young men and women moving to the beat of rhythmic songs.

Style and elegance was the order of the day, the handsome young gentlemen in smart cut suits of innumerable styles. Gold chains dangled from waistcoat pockets, dazzling as they danced, reflecting the light. Around crisp clean collars were ties, bows and cravats. Most of the guys sported well groomed beards or moustaches fashioned to their own particular taste. They accessorised with cuff-links and pins, some wore earrings and the mirror balls above caught the lights of the dance floor as the metallic items glowed bright like a swarm of fireflies gyrating in the night.

The most obviously striking feature of this distinguished crew was the startling array of headgear; top hats, bowlers and boaters. Trilbies and fedoras and one or two fez.

The young ladies likewise fashioned luxurious costumes of lace, satins and silks, from conservative white blouses and pleated skirts to the risqué burlesque; in basques and feather boas they were the brides of paradise. They carried dainty parasols, richly decorated fans, handbags of refined design and pretty little purses.

This beguiling society of funsters, gentlemanly and lady-like in all their finery had an agreed upon collective name. "The esteemed" A.K.A 'Steamsters', it being the vernacular.

Sitting on one of the soft padded plush purple sofas that lined the walls of the venue was a handsome dapper chap, wearing a black suit, a brilliant white shirt, bright red braces and matching bow tie. He cut an immaculate figure, topped off with a top hat that had a pair of goggles with a red elasticated strap encircling the circumference of the brim. His boots were shiny black and when he leaned towards the table to retrieve his drink, the chunky gold dice cuff-links he wore were mirrored in them.

Standing behind him, a blond beauty wearing a red silk dress sipped from her sherry glass. She fixed her eyes on the back of his head. She nonchalantly toyed with the pearls around her neck before sidling over behind him. She leaned over, slowly sliding her hands over his shoulders and slightly down his chest. She gently strummed one of his braces with her thumb.

With one finger he cocked his hat and glanced up at her with a smile. He loved the mesmerising blue of her eyes as she peered in his face. They reminded him of deep exquisite gentle pools sparkling with promise. Her lips were rich and rouged, ripe with desire.

"Hi Vance." She took another sip of sherry. "You come here often?"

He flashed her a handsome grin, his teeth as white as her pearls. "Not as often as I should." He beckoned for her to join him, which she did, slipping into her seat close beside him.

"Not long before the ship hits the lightning fields" she said, wrinkling her petite bejewelled little nose. A diamond shone from its side like a star.

"Yep, Chica", he gave out a small chuckle, "It should be good", and knocked back another shot from his glass.

She gave him a quizzical look. "You gotta gun?" Neon blue from the swirling dancefloor lights skated across her platinum locks.

He hadn't, but reminded of the fact he simply imagined one and a holster appeared strapped to his chest, black on white underneath the red. He lifted the side of his jacket to show her the black leather strap and holster fitted over his shirt and beneath his crimson braces, "I have now."

She gently traced her finger along Vance's top lip, the metallic blue of her varnished nail gleamed when struck by the lights.

"Hey honey, I'm loving the thin pencil 'tache!"

"Glad you like it", responding to the compliment, "It's the attention to detail that makes all the difference."

"Difference", she said, holding out a hand towards the dance floor to the sea of rippling hats and heads, simultaneously they both laughed.

Tucked between her fingers of the same hand, a champagne flute manifested and started to fill from the bottom to the rim with carbonated pink.

"Try this", she proffered, "it's my own particular concoction."

Vance took the drink she offered, raised one eyebrow and questioned "Champagne?"

"Well", she said, "It sure ain't pink gin fizz."

Vance shrugged, "Here goes", put the glass to his lips and drank the potion down.

At first it invigorated him, sweet and rich with the taste of strawberry, followed by the fire of bourbon. He bent forward in his seat holding his middle, then a shock of red pounded through his chest. His groin seemed to explode with excitable spasms, ecstatic waves of energy crashed into an ocean of awe; the onslaught on his senses so severe he lost a little control. Chica laughed uncontrollably as Vance morphed back into white t-shirt and red shorts. "What the ff!?", He almost exclaimed, cut short by the giggling Chica.

"You just had your first Chica bomb."

Bewildered with a baffled look on his face; the experience so intense he had tears in his eyes, "Wow Chica", he said regaining his composure as well as his sharp dressed image,

"What the hell is that stuff and … can I please have another?"

Walking towards the dance floor she glanced back. "Now you don't want to go and blow your nards off, do you?", gesticulating with one finger.

"Yeah, well, is that what happened to yours?"

From her pretty white shoulder bag she withdrew a silver vape. She inhaled on it deeply. It gave off a yellow flare of light. She exhaled the vapour in his direction. The steamy cloud of vapour approached him and not quite two inches from his face developed into a ghostly hand which deliberately gave him the finger. A smiling Vance blew on it and it dissipated into the air.

"Er… thanks for that and same to you", he shouted over, holding one erect finger from his clasped hand.

"No problem" beamed Chica as she turned and melted into the party's throng.

The esteemed indulged their celebrations all around him. The beat of the music, the chatter and cheer. They drank with righteous relish all that they desired from glasses, tankards and goblets.

Vance sat in the comfy two seater looking resplendent, enjoying his own company to an extent, although no-one could really be alone here, for he was they and they were he. With the atmosphere being jovial and polite, friends nodded greetings as they passed his table. Vance replied in kind.

A sultry brunette glided past in a sexily cut black dress, studded with diamantés that twinkled and teased the eye. She slowed as she gently swayed past Vance. She turned to face him; her long jet black hair shimmering in the light. She looked as formidable as she was beautiful. The glitter ball above caught on her diamond drop earrings, dazzling and vivacious. With a flick of her wrist she unfolded a black fan which exploded in a kaleidoscope of pattern and colour. She held it seductively to her face. Vance could only see the hypnotic eyes of this temptress of the skies. As he looked on, mouth agape, the patterns on her fan started to change and take on form. Gradually with grace, the patterns lifted, and a host of pretty coloured butterflies fluttered all about her. They gracefully orbited her head, metallic blue, emerald green and scarlet reds.

"Hello Vance", came her voice from beneath the fan; it was heavy and utterly luxurious. As she gazed at him with only her eyes in his vision, Vance recognised that the eyes were smiling.

Before he could reply he felt another presence drawing very close.

A fully formed arm appeared in a shiny grey sleeve holding a canister which then sent forth a thick stream of spray, covering the temptress in a cloud of fumes. The butterflies instantly collapsed and fell to the floor. She waved her arms furiously, trying to catch her breath as she gagged.

Vance couldn't help but chortle, then he heard a familiar voice, "Damn bugs!" The arm manifested the rest of the discarnate entity.

"Danny, I could kill you!", the now distressed lady said.

Standing there laughing out loud was a handsome blond young man, immaculately dressed in a silver frock coat. She pounded at his arms and chest, he just continued to laugh. "You ruined one of my best party tricks you idiot!"

"Well", he replied, "You sure didn't ruin mine!", winking as he held the canister to his face.

"Idiot", she repeated.

"Aw, c'mon Veronica, it was a joke is all."

He glanced at Vance collapsed on the couch in hysterics. "Hi dude", as he continued to calm the remonstrating lady.

Vance tried to regain his composure by sitting up straight, but continued laughing. He saw the sexy Veronica storming off, still waving her arms about as she dodged through the gathered party, who were also laughing.

Danny put one hand on the back of the sofa and jumped into the seat next to his compadré.

"How ya doing – like I have to ask?" Danny said adjusting his seat.

"Man, that was wicked", Vance said as he reached for his drink; his hand still trembling with laughter.

"Wow, how about that Chica!" said Danny, rearranging his bow tie and crisp white collar, "She sure blows ya mind! She sure blew something o' yours!" He winked at Vance who had taken on a slight glow of embarrassment.

"You know", Vance replied, "I don't care for that kind of innuendo."

"Yeah?" Danny looked him in the face. "Well I think you have something stuck in-your-endo … like a broomstick, jerk face!"

Vance flashed him a smile and knocked back another shot. Upon seeing this Danny pondered "Mm, what do I fancy to drink". Immediately between the fingers of his outstretched arm, a long stemmed glass appeared replete with a green olive impaled on a cocktail stick. The volume of his glass started to fill with a mint green liquid. He took a sip. "Aah, perfect!"

Vance glanced up and nodded at Danny's head, "Where's the hat?"

Danny ran his fingers through his short blond hair, "I always forget."

Tapping the side of his temple a stove pipe hat zapped into view, placed firmly upon his head.

"What do you think?" Danny asked.

"Fits in with the ego I suppose."

"What ego my dear chap?", quipped Danny as he waved a hand above his ear which revealed two huge red/blue feathers that manifested on one side of the hat.

Groups of party people started to gather round the many portholes as the announcement was given;

"Approaching the lightning fields"

Danny strode over to one of the groups crowding around to get a good view. Already it was all but impossible to see a thing from his vantage point. He walked back to his seat next to Vance. "Man, I ain't standing around a darn porthole struggling to see!" He took a sip of his drink.

Vance just shrugged, "Well you don't have to."

The disconcerted look on Danny's face started to shift a little. "You mean..."

"Yes I do mean", interrupted Vance who continued,

"My dear chap, would you do me the extreme courtesy of accompanying my personage without further ado to alight for the upper deck?"

Danny pulled a puzzled face and answered,

"Young sir, what a complete diatribe of pure stank, barf! Lets go!"

They vanished from their seats in a flourish and were gone as if they had never been.

Miles of clear skies. Occasionally dotted with white clouds. Vance and Danny now had the very best of views. Some of the other 'Steamsters' had joined them, just in time to watch as the orbs appeared; as one came into focus, then another, and another until the atmosphere brightened at the arrival of these shimmering golden spheres.

At first the orbs started to emit a low humming sound, then they emitted blinding streaks of white lightning striking one another. The combined effect was quite startling as the heavens transformed into a fierce blinding light. The 'Steamsters' quickly donned dark lensed glasses and goggles to shade themselves from this luminously bright onslaught as a bolt of blue shot down from above prompting the orbs to explode in a panorama of colour; an electric skyscape, crackling in the now.

Vance had been exchanging pleasantries with a young 'Steamster' lady wearing a tight bodice. She had a white parasol over her shoulder. It had been a delightful conversation in which she expressed her excitement and awe at being at the heart of this thrilling scene, when suddenly a violent fork of red sizzled through her. Her body flickered out of reality, and came back again so fast it almost didn't happen. She stood, with a blank stare, facing Vance with her parasol on fire. Vance shook her by the shoulders.

"Judith, you OK?" He knew she would be, but he tried to wake her from this mesmerised state.

"Judy, come back to us OK!"

Her eyes moved to meet Vance's, her mouth opened, she trembled. Then she exclaimed

"That was friggin' amazing!"

She noticed her burning parasol, now just a lit stick. It disappeared and a brand new one immediately replaced it. "That was such a rush!"

She patted Vance hard on his shoulder, "I hope it strikes me again!"

She shuffled away, then looking back she called "And I hope it strikes you too!" looking totally exhilarated.

Danny probed Vance in the ribs.

"What you just done to Judy?"

"Er nothing, she got struck", he said, looking at Danny from behind his goggles.

"Yeah, struck by the love monster. You dirty dawg!"

"Danny! Do I have to tell you again?"

"Oh, forgot!", Danny said, holding his hands up. "You don't care much for smut, do ya." He playfully punched Vance on the shoulder. "Ya dirty little mutt."

Vance winced, but not from the punch.

The whole spectacle viewed by the 'Steamsters' was indeed awe inspiring, as the electrical storm raged on like the battle of the gods at the gates of Olympus.

Vance and Danny, caught in the moment passed on high fives to other participating revellers. Each new blast, each new bolt demanded a whoop and a slapping of hands.

None of them noticed the dark cloud swiftly approaching driven on the East wind as it got ever nearer their ship, dark and foreboding.

A massive bolt of blue flashed in the sky. As the 'Steamsters' prepared to whoop and holler, giving out slaps, the cloud was electrified, thus illuminated to reveal the secret within.

The camouflage of cloud started to disperse to reveal quite a different ship.

Hoisted aloft, it displayed a sail of pure flame which took the form of a skull and crossbones. The jaws of the skull were moving in a fiery tumult of fury, emitting a shriek of sadistic laughter. The pirate galleon turned to come alongside as its grizzly crew readied their ropes.

"Sky pirates! Arm yourselves! Sky pirates!" the 'Steamsters' cried, raising the alarm as those within appeared on deck, armed to the teeth with pistols, muskets and swords.

Hoards of the marauders in quick succession swung across on ropes from the galleon with swords strapped on backs, pistols in their belts and knives clenched in teeth. Dressed in traditional authentic pirate garb they mounted their deadly assault; spinning, flying through the air. The ropes carried them across the void as they screamed their war cries.

The 'Steamsters' gave a volley of shots from their firearms. For a moment the pirates were obscured in a thick grey smoke which quickly cleared. Vance and the defenders were witness to some of the enemies doom, twisting, turning, writhing, falling and laughing.

Yes, laughing, as they fell to their fate.

The pirates, being great in number, continued the attack and succeeded in boarding the steamship's deck. They swash-buckled their way through galley-ways and ramparts packed tight with defender and foe engaged in deadly battle.

A massive bronzed attacker slashed at Vance's head; the mighty sword missed by mere millimetres as his target swayed from danger in the nick of time. Vance stumbled backwards and lost his footing. He tried to right himself but fell forward onto his knees.

"Time to die you scurvy dog", boomed the bronzed bulk, his open shirt flowing backwards in the wind. He lifted his sword arm high and wrought it down again. This time the pirate was convinced his sword had sliced through Vance; but had only succeeded in decapitating the crown of his hat.

Vance felt the steely draft as it cut through the air. He panicked, feeling for his gun. He pulled it from its holster with trembling fingers, pointed and fired.

The bullet found its mark!

It hit the behemoth squarely in the chest. His legs trembled beneath his red pantaloons. The pirate grimaced, his teeth a few shades darker than the sharks tooth necklace that adorned his throat. His belly started to shake, his body started to quake as he slapped at his thighs and gave out a mega roar … of laughter.

He threw back his head, his body shaking with mirth; his voice deep, coarse and loud.

"Aah ya got me, Ya landlubbin' punkster!"

He lifted his sword limply attempting a third vain attack, through his jovial uncontrollable jollies he managed to say, "Ya gonna have ter", he panted, "Shoot me again!"

Vance complied and shot him point-blank in his shaking belly. "It's my pleasure."

The laughing pirate shook his head in disagreement, "No … it's all mine."

Half heartedly the pirate tried to stab Vance again. A third shot fired which sent Sharktooth reeling back. He made a final lunge at Vance's head, grasped his butchered hat and finding no other purchase, overboard he fell, clutching the hat in his hand.

Vance peered over the side in time to see his falling adversary struck by a bolt of lightning. Through the cacophony he heard the bronze pirate as he plummeted ever downwards into the cloudy abyss. "I got ya hat – mutha ff– aaah!" Tears started to swell in Vance's eyes as he solemnly saluted the air he whispered "Adieu, old friend."

"Hey buddy", Danny said as he fenced past him, "Are you getting sentimental over the enemy?"

"No. Nuh-uh!" replied Vance. "But I did love that hat."

"Here, have another one." Danny waved his free hand magically simultaneously running another brute through with his sword hand.

A hat appeared on Vance's head, as a patch eyed villain squared up to him ready to attack. The villain spat on the deck a brown noxious oyster of saliva and chewing tobacco.

"Now", said the gangly patch-eye, "I'm gonna cut ya plums in twain and slice up ya 'nana!"

Vance involuntarily but instinctively grasped his own precious groin area. "Now, Sir", he swallowed hard and gulped, "Let's be gentlemanly, fair fight, no slicing below the waist."

"Uh?" Then it dawned on the villain. He looked to Vance's head. "No", gesturing with his sword, "Ya plums, banana an' all that."

With a look of terrible apprehension, Vance, not altering his stance jumped round to face the portholes to see his reflection. Horrified he jumped back to face patch-eye.

He couldn't quite take in what he had seen. His hair wrapped in a silver scarf; upon his head a fruit stacked hat; mascara, false eye lashes, ruby red lips, all topped off with a beauty mark and pink loop earrings. He was then aware of a 'schlop', a 'splosh' and a 'splat' at his feet. On the deck surrounding the tobacco phlegm lay a variety of sliced fruits.

He manifested a sabre just in time to block his assailant's second blow. As the swords clashed he spied Danny fighting further up deck in amongst a deadly crew. "I'm gonna seriously slap you dude", Vance yelled at him. "Gonna kick ya ass!"

Danny battled on yelling back, "You look good as Carmen Miranda!"

Vance pushed patch-eye back and with a flourish of his blade, finished him.

Patch-eye fell to his knees – giggling.