Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 8 Excerpt

Andrews took Ruth to lunch at a hotdog restaurant.  He was becoming increasingly fond of the American fast food.  He specifically asked the cab driver to take them to one “on the other side of the railroad tracks.”  Sure enough, there was a thriving community of black women, and while upon cursory examination the houses and businesses looked prosperous, the streets, sidewalks, and public works were clearly not as well maintained as those in the rest of the city.  They ate their hotdogs.  Their encounter with the police however, had fouled both their moods and neither felt like continuing afterwards.  Upon returning to the Biltmore, Ruth went to the Ladybugs’ suite, while Andrews spent the evening going through the thick file that had been put together for him in Chicago.  There he found a brief notation regarding a town in Mississippi called Oxford.  The next morning, he asked Agent Wright about it.

“A woman named Pearl Kerrigan wrote a long rambling threat to the Ladybugs back in ’72,” she said, after examining the note.  “It seemed serious enough at the time, so it was investigated by local police.”

“What did they find?” he asked.

“I don’t have any record of a resolution of any kind, but that was three years ago and the woman hasn’t been heard from since.  We rated the threat level pretty low, both because of how long ago it was received and the distance from any tour venue.”

“I have half a mind to go check it out myself, just to find out what happened.”

“I think it’s a waste of time,” said Wright.  “But if you want to requisition an airflivver, I’ll sign off on it.  I don’t think both of us should leave the area though.”

“No, that’s fine.  I can handle this myself.”

The airflivver met him on the roof of the hotel two hours later.  About as wide and tall, not including the dragonfly wings as a good sized car, and about two and a half times as long, this particular flivver was owned by a private contractor who leased it out to the government when it needed vehicles. Andrews dreaded getting into such aircraft when they were still running because of the reaction that some of the pilots had to him.  This pilot, a pretty girl barely old enough to have a pilot’s license, had apparently had contact with men before.  Though friendly and curious, she didn’t seem shocked to meet him.

“Hi, I’m Deb.”

“Agent Andrews.”

“We’re going to Oxford?”

“Yes, you know it?”

“Yes indeed-oh!”  She pulled back on the steering column and the vehicle shot into the air and spun around in an arc so tight that Andrews thought he would be thrown through the door.

Airflivvers typically had an airspeed of nearly two hundred miles per hour, and this one seemed to be one of the fastest, so the flight to Oxford took just less than two hours.  Along the way Andrews learned quite a bit about pilot Deb Gale, who was nothing if not communicative.  She was twenty-one, had moved to Atlanta from Ohio in order to get her piloting job, lived with two friends in a small apartment, and had a long distance friendship with a young man in the enclaves named Bud that she hoped would blossom into romance.

“I want to eventually get a job flying one of the big dirigibles, after I get enough airtime in.  Right now, I’m just enjoying the adventure.  You’ve got to have fun and adventure in your life while you’re young.  That’s what I keep telling Bud.  He’s twenty-four and he’s still afraid to move up north.  Pretty soon he’ll be too old for adventure and then what will he do.”

There was no airport in Oxford, at least not one capable of landing an airship.  There was a small tarmac where four or five airflivvers parked next to a single Quonset hut.  A single black and white police cruiser was waiting nearby.  Once they had landed, Andrews climbed out of the passenger side. Deb secured the craft and then followed him.  They were met by a single uniformed woman climbing out of the car.  She was a stocky woman in her fifties, her hair shot with grey.

“Agent Andrews?”

“Sherriff Donnelly.”  He reached out and shook hands.

“My goodness, I can’t believe it. An actual man right here in Oxford.”

“There are no other men in town?”

“Not for years now.”

“But you’ve known other men?”

“I’ve known a few,” she said, but didn’t elaborate.

“As I told you on the phone, I’m looking for Pearl Kerrigan.”

“I can drive you out to her place. She lives right outside of town. Nobody’s seen her in weeks though.”

“I’m coming too,” said Deb, as they piled into the police car.

“All right,” said Andrews, “but stay out of the way.”

They drove through town.  The once thriving main street had fallen to disrepair and beyond it was a town filled with old worn down houses with peeling paint, and newer mobile homes set back from the street in lots overgrown with weeds and brush.  Beyond the edge of town were a few small farms and then the ruins of abandoned farmhouses.  At last they pulled up in front of a turn of the century home.  It was in better shape than some of the places they had seen, but it looked quiet now.  The windows were all shuttered over and there seemed to be no sign of life.

Sheriff Donnelly got out of the car and walked up onto the front porch, peering into the front window before knocking on the door.  Andrews got out and walked back along the long driveway toward the separated garage behind.  He heard the sheriff knock several times and then call out but there was no answer. The garage had a door that slid from the side and it proved to be unlocked, so he pushed it far enough to create a two foot wide opening.  He stared into the darkness inside.

“Aren’t you going to take out your gun?” asked a voice behind him.

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Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 7 Excerpt

At ten o’clock the following morning, the airship Rosalie Morton rose up from the field at O’Hare and made a slow, majestic turn toward the south.  She would make a quick trip to Atlanta, arriving just before 2:30 local time. Andrews was seated at his tiny desk in his very small cabin, completing the extensive reports that had to be filed anytime a Science Police agent fired his weapon.  A knock at the door brought him to his feet even though the door opened before he had a chance to reach for the handle.  Ep!phanee stepped inside.  She had to press up against him in order to close the door behind her.

“Hello stranger,” she said.

“Hardly a stranger.  We saw each other half an hour ago.”

“Yes but we weren’t alone.  I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

“What’s more, my clownfish misses you.”

Sometime later, after the coral reef dweller in question had renewed his acquaintance, Andrews lay on the small single bunk in his room.  Piffy was draped over him like a blanket, her skin separated from his only by a thin layer of perspiration.

“So what is the fascination with sea life—the whole aquatic motif?”

“I like fish and the coral reef. When I’m home on Thatch Cay I go snorkeling almost every day.  Sometimes I go spear fishing.”

“Thatch Cay?”

“Yes, that’s the island we own.” She giggled.  “I managed to say that almost like it’s a normal thing—we own an island.”

“You all live there?”

“Well, we all have houses there. Agave Studio is there.  Then there’s an old fishing village I had fixed up as the port for our boats.  And I had my beach renovated—two hundred barges full of rocks and debris hauled away, the sand sifted, and several rows of palm trees planted back from the shoreline. But until a couple of months ago, I was the only one there besides the caretakers and their families.  Steffie and Penny were both in Europe and Ruth was staying with her mother in St. Croix.”

Andrews was quiet for a moment.  “Really?  Spear fishing?”

“Sure.”  She climbed off of him and began putting her clothes back on.  “You know that island is why we got back together.”

“How so?”

“Oh, we were all fighting about recordings and copyrights and who was going to be the band’s manager, but when it came to selling our joint assets, Thatch Cay was first on the list and nobody wanted to let go of it.  Penny and I got together after not speaking for a couple of years to figure out what to do with it, and we ended up in the studio together.”

“Then the world owes Thatch Cay a debt of gratitude.”  He sat up and folded his hands behind his head.  “I hope we get a chance to sneak out for dinner tonight or maybe tomorrow. I hear they have a very famous hotdog restaurant in Atlanta.”

“That’s not going to be possible I’m afraid.”  Now dressed in her tee shirt and mini skirt, Piffy wobbled like a stilt walker as she put her feet into her platform sandals.  “We have some planning to do for the show this evening, and I want you to spend tomorrow with Ruth.”

“Ruth?  Why?”

“She’s nice.  She’s pretty.”

“I know she’s nice.  She’s famous for being ‘the nice one’, and I think she’s beautiful.  But we’re hitting it off so well, I thought we could spend some time together.”

“We are hitting it off and we’ll spend more time together, but if I have a man it’s just not right that I don’t share him with my best friends.  It’s not like we come across men every day.”

“There are men… around,” he sputtered. “What are you going to do, loan me out like one of your guitars?”

“Don’t be stupid.  I wouldn’t loan Ruth my guitar… maybe my Dreadful, but not my Rickenbacker.  Anyway, she can’t play guitar for shit.  Besides, you should be loving this.  Men are supposed to be like that.  You all make your monthly donations willingly enough don’t you?  You’re supposed to be… what’s that word that you are?”

“Promiscuous?”

“Horny.  That’s it.”

“You have no idea what men are like, do you?”

“I’ve seen men before, though I admit I haven’t really gotten to know one until now.”

“Not even your father?”

“I didn’t have a father.  My mother ordered her genetic sample from the Science Council.”  She stopped and stared at him, eyes and mouth wide open.  “Oh shit.  Oh shit.”

“Relax.  I’m thirty-five.”

She stared uncomprehendingly.

“I’m too young to be your father.”

“Oh my God,” she let out the breath she had been holding and put her hand over her heart.  “What a scare.  I guess Ruth doesn’t have to worry about that.  Penny doesn’t either, though that’s just the kind of kink she’d probably enjoy.”

“So you want me to go out and have sex with your friends?”

“Only if you hit it off.  If you don’t click, then no problem.  Unlike most women, they can afford to fly south and find their own man. And just Ruth and Penny—not Steffie. She had her own man and the bitch never once offered to share him with me.  Well, all right.  Maybe Steffie too.  We’re kind of a package deal.  You understand how the world works, don’t you?  There just aren’t enough men for us not to share.  You can’t just date one girl, no matter how much I would like to have you all to myself.”

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 6 Excerpt

Andrews ordered a taxi and rode with Ep!phanee back to the American, where the rest of the band and entourage had stayed.  Once she was safely under the protection of the Chicago Police Department, and after he had made a quick stop at his own room to shave and change, he took the same cab back to the international building and met up with Agent Wright and the team.

Two of the local agents were working in the office, coordinating with other Science Police teams who were investigating possible threats in cities around the globe.  Andrews and Wright, each taking one of the local agents with them, set out to determine the veracity of threats in the Chicago area.  Wright and her temporary partner Agent Finnegan were to investigate the source of some anti-lesbian letters, while Andrews and Agent Loginova were looking into a woman who had sent several long, rambling quasi-religious, anti-rock and roll letters.  Downstairs in the garage, Andrews bid farewell to Wright and followed Loginova to the large black Packard Clipper.

“You know the area better,” he said, as he climbed into the passenger seat, aware that many women didn’t trust male drivers.

Loginova was a tough looking woman of five foot eight.  She had the body of an athlete, and while her face was attractive, it boasted several scars that said she could take a beating as well as give one.  Her burgundy-dyed hair was cut into an unusual bob, very high on the back of her head and featuring bangs that came to a point in the middle, just above her nose, rather than being cut straight across.

The last known residence of Miss Athena Kesting was in Bolingbrook, which with traffic took almost forty minutes to reach.  The quaint little village was covered by a large glass and steel dome to protect residents from the acrid smoke and acid rain that was the bane of the Midwest.  The address in question proved to be huge house on a large, fenced estate.

“Not what I was expecting,” commented Loginova, as she pulled the car up the driveway, past extensive gardens.

The two agents parked and got out. On either side of the front door were life-sized marble statues of women in long flowing dresses.  Andrews knocked, using the brass doorknocker, and when the door opened, he was surprised to find a woman who was the spitting image of the statue on the left.

“Good morning,” said Loginova, showing her badge.  “We would like to speak to Miss Athena Kesting.”

“Oh.  She doesn’t live here anymore.”

“Can you give us her forwarding address?”

“Won’t you come in please?”

The two agents entered a home that was as opulent inside as the outside had hinted.  Passing through a foyer covered in rich wood paneling, they entered a stunningly decorated living room and sat down on a beautiful antique sofa. Two other women were seated when they came in, but both rose to their feet.

“Inga, would you ask Mr. Larkin to come down?” asked the woman with whom they had entered.  “My husband will very much want to speak with you.”

A few minutes later, the gentleman in question entered the room.  He was an average looking man, wearing casual though expensive clothes.  He was slightly balding, something that he had chosen not to try to cover up by combing his hair over.

“Good Morning,” he said, shaking hands with both agents.  “I’m Evan Larkin, and these are my wives Elke Lom-Larkin, Angelina Redmond-Larkin, and Inga Lom-Larkin.”

“Agent Andrews, and this is Agent Loginova.”

“So what can we do for you,” Larkin asked sitting down across from them.  Elke sat to his right, while Angelina and Inga stood behind them.

“They are here about Athena,” said Elke.

“Oh yes.  Well, no surprises there.  She was a troubled girl, I’m afraid.”

“What was your relationship with Miss Kesting?” asked Andrews.

“We were engaged.  My wives thought that she might fit in with us here, so she moved in for a trial period.  I’m afraid it was not to be, though.  She left, what has it been now?  Six months ago.”

“Do you have a forwarding address?”

“Inga will find that for you.  May I ask why you are looking for her?”

“I’m afraid we can’t say.  It involves an ongoing investigation.”

“I see.  Well, it’s no stretch of the imagination that it involves Athena’s strong feelings.  She was brought up in a very religious community in Idaho.”

“They were very strict adherents to morality and believers in a patriarchal lifestyle,” said Elke. “That’s why we thought she might fit in here.”

“And you are all adherents to a patriarchal lifestyle?” asked Loginova.

“Not really,” replied Elke.  “We’re more of a pragmatic family.  We just thought that having grown up that way, Athena would fit in.  It just didn’t work out.  She was far too inflexible.”

“She thought that everyone had to believe the way she did,” added Angelina.

Andrews felt rather than saw Loginova cast a glance in his direction.

“Would you ladies mind if I spoke to Agent Andrews alone in my study?” asked Larkin.

Not waiting for a reply, he stood up and started for a door in the back of the room.  He turned to see that Andrews was following him, and said, “Inga will get that forwarding address for you, Agent Loginova.”

The study was a spacious room with large windows looking out over a huge swimming pool and beautiful lawn behind the house.  There was a large cherry wood desk near the back of the room and shelves filled with books along the wall.

“Would you like a drink?” asked Larkin.

“No, thank you.”

“Have you had a drink yet?”

Andrews grunted noncommittally.

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 5 Excerpt

Early the next morning, Andrews and Wright met in the Chicago Science Police field office.  They sat down in a room with four local agents.  Stacked on a conference table were five large cardboard boxes.  Wright looked at each person seated in turn.

“We have our work cut out for us this morning ladies.  Inside these boxes are as many of the threatening letters, unsettling telegrams, and creepy missives that the Ladybugs have received in the past twelve months, as a group or individuals, as we could get a hold of.  Lucky us.  We get to go through and read them.  I want them sorted by who they are targeting, the reason for the threat, their geographic origin, their likely source, and the threat level.”

The team sorted through the files by placing each of the items into matrix created by Agent Wright.  Sandwiches and coffee were brought in and they worked right through lunch and well past five o’clock in the evening.  In the end, they had 342 individual threats to investigate.

“All right,” said Wright.  “The most important factor is threat level. We begin farming these individual items to the field offices based on their geographic origin, but we do so in order of threat level, starting with the most severe.”

“That’s a lot of woman-power strung out all through the bureau, isn’t it?” asked Anna Finnegan, one of the local field agents.

“Chicago was willing enough to spare the four of you.  I’m sure that the other offices can spare a couple of agents to investigate someone living in their area.  We’ll all meet back here first thing tomorrow.”

“Agent Andrews…” two of the women started at once, and then looked at each other.

“If you’re not doing anything for dinner…” one of them continued.

“I’m sorry ladies, but my partner has a meeting,” said Wright.  “I however, would be happy to escort any or all of you to dinner.”

“I have a meeting?”  Andrews leaned over and asked.

“In the lobby.”

The lobby of the Grace Coolidge International Building, though spartan, was large.  It took a minute for Andrews to find his appointment waiting by feet of the statue of Justice.  He almost didn’t recognize Ep!phanee.  She was dressed in faded jeans and a Nehi Blue Cream Soda tee shirt.  Her hair was tucked up under a black military cap.

“Is somebody here with you?” he asked.

“Nope.  I ditched the cops back at the hotel.  Buy me a hotdog.”

“You shouldn’t be running around town without an escort.”

“Well I have one now.  Besides, I just want a hotdog.  There’s a hotdog cart just down on the corner.  I saw it on the cab ride over here.”

She took him by the arm and led him to the glass-enclosed front of the building, holding the door open for him. The hotdog vendor was stationed just where she had described, a chubby little woman with a striped shirt, a large stain covering most of the front.

“Two dogs,” Ep!phanee ordered, then turned to Andrews.  “What do you want on yours?”

“I don’t know; whatever’s customary.”

“Haven’t you ever had a hotdog before?”

He shook his head.  “German food’s not very popular in the enclaves.”

“Hotdogs are as American as apple pie. All right.  Bacon, beans, avocado, catsup, and mayonnaise.  Do you want jalapenos?”

“Yes please.”

“So you don’t have street food in the enclaves?”

“Sure.  Tacos– usually fish tacos, but sometimes grilled shrimp.”

The vendor handed Piffy the hotdogs, already loaded with beans and avocado.  Stepping to the end of the cart, she scooped on the jalapenos and then squirted on squiggly lines of red catsup and white mayonnaise.  Handing one of the dogs to Andrews, she watched as he took a tentative bite.  She then opened her mouth wide and shoved in about a third of hers.

“Good huh?” she asked, her mouth full.

He nodded and then took another bite. Ep!phanee began strolling down the sidewalk and even though she was moving slowly Andrews had to take a few quick steps to keep up.  He was still eating his hotdog as they walked, being careful not to spill the condiments on his jacket.  She finished first and dropped the little paper hotdog caddie in a trashcan beside the street.

“I should get you back to the hotel.”

“I’m staying in this hotel now.”

Andrews looked skyward to find that they were in front of the Palmer House.  When he looked back down, Ep!phanee was already going through the revolving door.  He stuffed the last bit of hotdog into his mouth and dropped the paper waste in a can beside the door, following her.  The lobby was huge, with a tiled vaulted ceiling that looked like it belonged in a cathedral.  Andrews felt self-conscious even walking on the rugs.

“Why are you staying here?”

“We have two more days in Chicago. I’ll go crazy if I’m cooped up with the girls the whole time.”

“You have two entire suites at the American.  And it’s under complete police protection.”

“I’ve got my own suite here.”  She twirled around a few times but kept on course for the elevator.  “It’s the same one Ulysses S. Grant stayed in.  He used to be on money, you know.”

She skipped into the elevator and he followed.  An attendant, a small woman in a tight red uniform, was waiting inside.

“Twenty-fifth floor,” said Ep!phanee.

The attendant nodded, and then turned the lever sending the car gliding swiftly upwards.

“Ulysses S. Grant died in 1885,” said Andrews.  “There weren’t any twenty-five story buildings in Chicago then.”

“I think I feel his presence though.”

“Uh-huh.”

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 4 Excerpt

Built in 1929, the Chicago Stadium was the largest indoor venue in the world, almost twice as large as Madison Square Gardens.  In its forty-six years of existence, it had hosted hockey and football games, presidential nominating conventions, rodeos, boxing tournaments, and the 1964, 1965, and 1966 Ladybugs tours.  Its seventeen thousand seat capacity made it a far smaller venue than Shea, but being indoors, with a permanent stage, had some advantages.  Crews had been working on the laser and lighting systems for weeks. A single song had been switched.  Casanovawas replaced by Paragon of Virtue, allowing the band to use the fabled 3,663 pipe Baron organ in the Madhouse on the Madison.

Andrews watched from just off stage as some local celebrity or other introduced the band.  He hadn’t been at the previous concert, but he had seen the segments on the news.  If anything, the screaming sounded louder here than it had at Shea Stadium, but at least when the music started you could hear it.  The band was making the transition from Peggy Sueto She’s My Dreamwhen Wright tapped him on the shoulder.

“Chicago PD says everything is secure.” She had to scream to make herself heard.

He nodded, and while she hurried back to her position, he took a deep breath, allowing himself to enjoy the experience of seeing his favorite band, the world’s favorite band, play their music. It was easy to see that the girls were more at ease than they had been.  During Lonely Girl, Ep!phanee, who played no instrument in the song, began leaping around in circles as she sang, just as she had in the early days.  The crowd ate it up.  Then during DistortionPenny, Piffy, and Steffie fell into a line and began strutting across the stage with almost military precision, finally sliding toward the audience on their knees as they played the final chords.

The drumbeat continued and the all three took their places to begin Under the Heel.  That’s when Andrews saw it.  There was a flash of light high up in the rafters above the audience.  It wasn’t the flash of a camera bulb, but of reflective light bouncing off a pane of glass—like the end lens of binoculars, or of a rifle’s scope.

Ducking around the back curtain and running through the cluttered backstage, he found scaffolding with a metal ladder at one end.  Grabbing hold of a rung, he pulled himself upwards.  By the time he was twenty feet above the ground, the scaffolding began to sway dangerously with every step, and he still had more than fifty feet to go. When he reached the top he was sure the swaying structure would go crashing to the ground at any second, but he was able to clamber off it and onto the catwalk that ran the length of the stadium.

The stadium lights were out.  All spots were on the performing band.  Even if they hadn’t been, Andrews probably wouldn’t have been able to see anything.  The catwalk ran above the lighting tracks, and the centermost section, where he had seen the flash, was a long way off.  He ducked lower and grabbed the rail, but he didn’t have the luxury of watching from where he was, or even of taking it slow.  Hunched over, he ran the length of the clattering, swaying metal walkway. The Ladybugs were playing the last chords of Artificial Manwhen he saw a human figure, not on the catwalk he was on, but one that intersected it.  He ran faster.

When the song ended, the screaming applause continued but it, unlike the music, was not amplified up near the ceiling. Andrews stood up straight, but didn’t slow down.  As he ran, he pulled the pistol from his shoulder holster.  He flipped on the power and it began to whine as the solenoid charged.

“Hold it!” he yelled.

The person turned, saw him, and ran, the catwalk taking her away at a diagonal.  Andrews stopped and took aim, but didn’t fire.  There was something in the shadowy figure’s hand, but he wasn’t sure it was a weapon.  He raced forward to where the two catwalks intersected, then turned and followed the other’s path.  By that time, whoever he was following was a tiny figure half lost in the darkness. Andrews ran on, even when he could no longer see the person he was pursuing, secure in the knowledge that they had to be on the catwalk.  But then he reached the end of the building to find a short ladder leading to a roof access door.  Climbing up the stairs, he put his left hand on the hatch, his right still holding his gun. He quickly opened the door and stepped out onto the roof.

The moon, fully obscured by smoky clouds, did little to aid him, but Andrews carefully made the circuit around the rooftop, stepping around air conditioning units and other equipment. Suddenly a figure in black jumped up right in front of him.

“Freeze!”

“Don’t shoot!  Don’t shoot!”

“Hands in the air!”

Andrews could now see that it was a woman in front of him, something he had naturally expected.  She was in her late twenties or early thirties and she was dressed in an imitation of Ep!phanee’s dark blue costume—spandex leggings and bustier, though her hair was oily brown rather than a bright blue and she didn’t have a nose ring.  He grabbed the object she held up in her right hand.  It proved to be a Leica 35mm camera.

“What were you doing on the catwalk?”

“Just watching the concert.  I couldn’t get tickets, but I’m the biggest Ladybugs fan in the world.”

“Andrews!” Wright called from the roof entrance.

“Over here!”

A moment later she arrived with two Chicago police officers in tow.

“How did you get up there, past the police line?” Andrews asked his prisoner.

“I have a friend on the force.”

Wright turned to the officers.  “I want that cop’s name and I want her tits in a vise!”

Both the uniforms looked appropriately chastened as they frisked and then cuffed the suspect.

“Can I have my camera back?”

“No,” said Andrews, as he switched off the power on his pistol and stuffed it back in its holster.

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 3 Excerpt

All four of the ladybugs were pleased to get out of New York early.  The stress of being locked up in their hotel under guard, and the threat against their lives, hung over them like a cloud.  Having the chance to spend two full days in Chicago before the concert, instead of only one was just as welcome.  Rather than chartering another dirigible, the band was given the use of an official government airship.

“I didn’t know a Science Police agent could summon a dirigible at her whim,” commented Ep!phanee to Agent Andrews.

“We can’t, but the Science Council can. There are quite a few Ladybugs fans among them, I’m sure, and I doubt that they want any of you to hitchhike to Chicago.”

Every schoolgirl knew that the Science Council ran the world.  They had since the great Science War, which began in 1956.  At that time the last remaining totalitarian rulers had tried to expand across Europe and Asia.  A coalition of nations picked themselves up from the depths of the Great Depression and fought back.  When the war was won, a new world government had been created.  Science Council members were chosen for their knowledge and wisdom and acted for the good of humanity.

Once the airship S.V. Rosalie Morton had left LaGuardia, the two agents continued their investigation.  Agent Wright spoke to each of the crewmembers and support staff of the band and Andrews interviewed the two remaining musicians.  The first was Penny Dreadful.  They met in Andrew’s cabin and sat at the small desk beside a large window as the clouds passed by outside.  She was a large woman, though not fat.  If she had been a building, she would have been called structurally sound.  And a skyscraper.  She was about five foot eleven.  She weighed around one hundred fifty pounds, a good thirty pounds heavier than she was on the old album covers, on which she had seemed extraordinarily skinny. The white corset, not quite reaching down to her waist left plenty of cleavage, and she wore long white gloves decorated with tiny pink bows.  Her white-layered net tutu skirt left fourteen inches of bare, white thighs above her knees, which were covered by white lace stockings.  She wore white combat boots.  Her huge mane of red hair was still styled in the dreadlocks she had worn on stage, and she had two huge hoop earrings and a smaller hoop in the middle of her lower lip.

“Thanks for seeing me,” he said.

“You’re kidding, right?  Before yesterday I’d never seen a man in real life before.  This is really a treat for me… you know, besides somebody trying to kill me and all.”

“So you think you are the target?”

She shrugged.  “Steffie’s probably right.  A lot of people were pissed off when Carpetmuncherhit the air.  That’s the name of the song, um… no offense.”

“I think it’s a great song,” he said.

“You’ve heard it?”

“I bought the album the day it came out.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah.  I’m a huge Ladybugs fan, and that includes your solo albums.  I remember watching you on the Dorothy Kilgallen Show, and I had to present my PhD thesis the next day.  So you see; it’s an even bigger treat for me to be assigned here with you.”  He watched her for a moment, and then asked. “I’ve been north for two years now, but I still don’t really understand the anti-homosexual attitude.  There are plenty of women running around dressed as men, my partner for instance, with her little fake mustache.  It all seems pretty open.”

“Not really.  We’re still very parochial.  Even though men have been gone from most of society for years, there is the tradition around the world of women not going out unescorted.  So women like Agent Wright and Alexa Rothman, faux-men, are tolerated and even encouraged.  With no men to escort women, someone just had to take their place. Sex in some ways is really just an extension of that, but nobody talks about it.  Women pretend that faux-men are men and for the most part, treat them that way.  Women who openly have sexual relationships with other women, or at least with other women who look like women, are ostracized.”

“That’s the other thing that surprises me,” said Andrews.  “How women look.  Without many men around, I expected to see relatively few women putting on makeup, but you all do… except those pretending to be men.”

“I imagine that most men and women were surprised to find out how little women dressed up for men and how much they dressed up for each other.  It’s all about outdoing each other.  That includes painting our faces, and wearing jewelry.”

“Yes, I knew women pierced their ears, but I wasn’t expecting everything else.”

“Maybe sometime I’ll show you all my jewelry.”

This seemed as though it was meant to be suggestive, but Andrews couldn’t find anything particularly arousing in looking through a jewelry box.

“Besides those who are upset over homosexual content in the music, can you think of anyone else who might have something against you?”

She stared back, smiled, and then rolled up the bottom of the white corset to reveal her smooth featureless stomach.

“You mean because I have no belly button—because I’m a vat baby?”

“That’s one possibility.”

“That’s hardly my fault.  They should blame Anton Dilger, not me…  Are you all right?”

Andrews had turned white and his eyes widened.

“Are you all right?  Do you need the doctor?”

“No.”  He took a deep breath.  “No, I’m all right.  It’s just that… in the enclaves… we don’t ever say that name.  Not ever.  It’s worse than any profanity or blasphemy.  It’s just not tolerated.”

Penny nodded, tugging on the ring through her lower lip.

Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 2 Excerpt

Safely tucked away on the top floor of the Armstrong, Ep!phanee took a long hot bath in the huge sunken tub, and then wrapped herself in one of the hotel’s complimentary fluffy robes and sat down in front of the radio-vid.  This one was a newer and more expensive model than the one on the dirigible.  It boasted a twenty-five inch screen and according to the logo was in living color, but the news program was still in black and white.

“… though at least fifteen are missing and presumed to be dead.  Speculation continues that the explosion was a result of a bomb and that it might have been an attempt on the lives of one or all of the members of the Ladybugs, whose sold out performance at Shea Stadium was called by more than one fan ‘the event of a lifetime’.”

“Don’t listen to that,” said Alexa, turning it off.

“The event of a lifetime?”

“Well, that part’s okay.  I don’t want you worrying about somebody trying to kill you though.  You’ve got to think about your music.”

“So you think someone was trying to kill us?”

Alexa frowned.  “Maybe.  Dirigibles don’t just blow up.  They’re not flammable.”

“Inflammable.”

“Right.  They’re inflammable, not flammable.”

“Inflammable and flammable mean the same thing.”

“Well they don’t catch fire very easily. When was the last time you heard of one catching fire or exploding on its own?”

“Never.”

“That’s right.  That’s why people fly in them instead of really big aeroplanes.”

Janet Shaw, one of the crewmembers, stuck her head into the room.  “Alexa, the Science Police are down at the lobby.  Should they come up?”

“Yes, send them up.”  Then turning back to Piffy, she made a face.  “Like I could stop the Science Police.”

By the time the Science Police arrived at the door, Steffie had come out of the shower in the other bathroom, Ruth had kicked off her boots and put her feet up, and Penny had assemble a huge burger from the tray sent up by room service.  She had a separate platter of fries.

“You’re going to get fat,” said Steffie. “Fatter.”

“Don’t even start, you boney-assed bitch,” Penny replied.

Piffy got up and followed Alexa to the door.  The two agents entered.  They were both about six feet tall, lean and muscular, with close-cropped hair, and sharp features.  They wore dark suits and one had a small mustache.  The one with the mustache spoke in a crisp, sharp soprano.

“I’m Agent Wright and this is Agent Andrews.”

When Alexa reached to shake Agent Wright’s hand, Ep!phanee automatically reached out to shake hands with Agent Andrews. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“And you,” said the agent.

Something suddenly rushed around in Piffy’s insides.  Her skin felt hot and her breath caught in her throat.  Other things were happening inside her too.  It was as if some kind of chemical reaction had opened the floodgates that held back rivers of hormones.

“Holy shit,” she said.  “Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit.  You’re a man.”

“That’s right.”

“No, I mean you’re a man—a real one.”

“Yes, I know.”

Agent Wright cast a sidelong glance at Agent Andrews, who returned the look with a shrug.  Piffy looked at the former.

“Are you?  No, I see you’re not.”

“Nice mustache though,” offered Alexa.

“Thank you.  I made it with my own hair.”

“May we come in and talk with you?” asked Agent Andrews.

The other women, who had rushed over to see what Ep!phanee was so excited about, now were loath to move away from the door, each feeling something akin to what she had felt.  Alexa finally had to physically push them aside so that the agents could lead them back to the living area where they all sat down near Steffie, the only one who had not rushed to the door.

“Where are you from?” Piffy asked Agent Andrews.

“Cape Horn enclave.”

“Aren’t you afraid of the disease?” asked Steffie.

“Are you married?” asked Ruth.

“We need to ask you the questions, I’m afraid,” said Agent Wright.  “The NYPD has made a preliminary finding that it was a bomb on your dirigible that caused the explosion at LaGuardia.  We have to assume that it was an attempt on your lives.  That’s why we’re here.”

“We need any information you might have on anyone who might want to do you harm,” said Agent Andrews.  “Have you received any recent threats, either as a group or individually?”

“I like it when he talks,” said Ruth.

“The group has gotten hundreds of death threats since last year, and they’ve gotten them as individuals for years,” said Alexa.

“Some more than others,” said Steffie, looking at Penny, who glared back at her.

“We’ll need copies of all of those, plus we’re going to need to interview each of you separately; you and your crew members.”

“Can’t that wait until tomorrow?” asked Alexa.  “It’s past midnight and the girls are exhausted.”

“Perhaps that would be best,” said Agent Andrews.  “We’ll meet here first thing in the morning.  In the meantime we have posted police officers outside your door, at the elevator, stairwell, and at every building entrance.  You’ll be safe here tonight.”

As the agents were leaving E!piphanee pulled Agent Wright aside.

“I felt something when I… um, met your partner.”