Tesla’s Stepdaughters – Chapter 1 Excerpt

Tesla's StepdaughtersRain beat against the wide windows of the promenade deck as the massive form of the S.S. Lady of Angels descended through the clouds. The dirigible, one of the largest in the air, had made the trip from Los Angeles to New York in just over twenty-six hours, almost two full hours ahead of schedule. In a few minutes, the mooring team would have it fastened to the ground at LaGuardia, and its passengers would be debarking. The great golden craft was one of the latest generation of airships. Massive, as if someone had turned the Empire State Building on its side and launched it through the air; fast, propelled by six huge steam powered propellers; but unlike the other two dozen gigantic vessels at the airport, the Lady of Angels had only a few passengers—the four members of the rock band the Ladybugs, their managers, staff, and crew.

“Is it going to be raining at Shea Stadium?” asked Ruth De Molay, her island accent a blend of American and British dialect.

“Yes,” answered Alexa Rothman, “but don’t worry; you’ll have a cover over you.”

“I assume the electrical will be covered too,” she said, but to this there was no answer.

“We’re on the radio-vid again,” said Steffie Sin, peering at the nineteen-inch monochrome monitor on the wall. A female reporter spoke into a microphone.

“It’s less than two hours before what some have dubbed ‘the concert of the century’ tonight at Shea Stadium, where performing live for the first time in ten years, the greatest rock combo of all time will begin the American leg of a historic world tour.” The image on the screen switched from the attractive female reporter to images of thousands taking their places in the stadium. “The Ladybugs burst onto the world stage in 1963, the head of the female invasion with their cover of Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue. This was followed by a string of hits, most written by the band’s four members. At one point in 1965 the group held sixteen spots concurrently on Billboard’s top one hundred singles chart. Releasing two to three albums a year and maintaining a grueling tour schedule kept the Ladybugs at the top, but then in 1967, weary of life on the road they moved to their studios in the Virgin Islands, where they released such cutting edge studio albums as Blessed Nobody, Platinum Dream, and the self-titled double album. Even as their last two albums were being marketed however, longstanding personality and management conflicts within the group broke it apart, and in 1970 the band split up, many believed forever. Now, five years later, hot on the heels of the Christmas release of Rebel Girls, the band makes its triumphant return to the concert stage.”

The great dirigible had dropped below the cloud bank now, turning majestically to start its final descent. Stretching out into the distance, one could make out the pillars of smoke rising from a thousand different smokestacks, each belonging to one of the many, many gigantic steam engines that provided electricity for New York City. The reporter on the radio-vid continued.

“We have confirmation that the band’s airship is now arriving at the airport. All four members are confirmed to be aboard. As everyone knows, the Ladybugs are Steffie Sin, Penny Dreadful (born Penelope Dearborn) both of Los Angeles; Ep!phanee (born Theresa Maria Bergman) of Stockholm; and Ruth De Molay, a native of the Virgin Islands. Ep!phanee and Dreadful have both released a series of successful solo albums while Sin and De Molay have released music more sporadically, the latter focusing on a successful movie career while the former has spent a great deal of time in seclusion in Switzerland.”

“Turn that shit off,” said Penny.

“I want to hear what people are saying about us,” replied Ruth.

“Don’t pay any attention to her,” said Steffie. “She’s just pissed off because they used her real name on the air.”

“Penny Dreadful is my real name. I had it legally changed.” She looked like she wanted to say more, but at that moment the captain’s Texas drawl came over the speaker.

“Attention passengers. As we come in for a landing at LaGuardia, I’d like to express thanks on behalf of myself and the company to all of you for flying Pan American Lines, and on a personal note I’d like to say what a privilege it is to pilot the greatest musicians of all time to their first concert of the decade. The crew and I will be looking forward to transporting you safely to Chicago in two days time. In the meantime, break a leg. Here in Queens, the temperature is a balmy 62 degrees and the local time is 6:55 PM.”

“She has a lovely voice,” said Penny.

“She doesn’t know shit about music though,” said Steffie. “If we’re the greatest musicians of all time, where do you rate Mozart, Beethoven, or Enrico Caruso?”

“Do we have time to get to the stadium?” asked Ruth.

“No problem,” assured Alexa, “assuming Piffy has her hair done.”

The last two hours had been spent getting ready for the concert. The band members had donned their custom-made outfits, each a very expensive update of the costumes they had worn on their 1964 tour. They consisted of spandex leggings and a matching bustier. Penny’s was bright red to match her hair which been carefully formed into faux dreads. Steffie’s was black, contrasting with her platinum blond tresses, which were braided into two massive pony tails and interwoven with white and black ribbon. Ruth’s outfit was blue and a blue headband held her natural dreadlocks back.

“I’m ready,” said Ep!phanee standing in the doorway in her own blue outfit, her bright blue hair styled into two buns, one on either side of her head.

The great dirigible made its landing and the crew began hustling instruments to one of the six large airflivvers parked nearby. The band waited impatiently beneath the humongous fuselage for their vehicle to be ready. Each had pulled on their goggles. The air, while breathable, would burn one’s eyes in a very short time without protection.

Alexa stepped close to them. “We’re going in four separate flivvers.”

“Why?” asked Ep!phanee.

“Safety.”

“They got another death threat on me,” said Penny.

“It’s that damned song,” said Steffie. “I told you it was going to be trouble. People aren’t ready to accept homosexuals.”

“We’re all homosexuals,” replied Penny. “I’m just being honest about it.” Then she looked at Alexa. “No offense.”

“You know I still love you.” Though Alexa had cut her hair short, drawn on a pencil thin mustache, and was wearing a man’s suit, she had made no attempt to hide her DD cup breasts.

“We’re all riding together,” said Ep!phanee. “The fans expect to see us climb out of the same hatch.”

“Are you sure?”

Without any further word, Ep!phanee held her umbrella up and stepped briskly across the tarmac to the airflivver parked just in front of the one into which the instruments had been loaded. The others followed. Once all five women were seated, the pilot started the engine. The long, broad dragonfly wings on either side of the vehicle began to flap in a circular motion. The crew, staff, and security piled into the other four craft, and the six airflivvers lifted off together, sailing over the airport terminal, turning in a gentle banking maneuver and winging their way toward Shea Stadium.

Airflivvers had come into use in the early days of the Science War. Afterwards they became common for commercial use. On their first visit to Shea Stadium in 1964, the group had flown in an early Douglas model. These were made by Mitsubishi, and were not only state of the art, but were high class comfort as well.

The convoy stayed below the cloud cover and weaved in and around the great columns of black smoke that were rising into the sky. Within moments they were out of eyesight from LaGuardia, and anyway, their attention was on what was before them rather than what was behind. They didn’t see the majestic airship in which they had arrived suddenly explode, flattening nearby buildings and spreading debris for miles. They didn’t see the fires that sprang up as flaming debris was strewn across the entire airport. Ep!phanee thought she heard something over the airflivver wings, but she took no serious note of it.

In what seemed like an impossibly short time, they were circling the stadium. Even from several hundred feet in the air, anyone could see that virtually every seat was filled. Thousands of flashbulbs began firing as the airflivvers descended. Even more flashbulbs went off once the vehicles set down on the grassy field and disgorged their passengers. Tens of thousands of screaming fans created a deafening din as the four band members rushed to the awning covered stage. Once there, they had to wait as their instruments were brought up, though the amplifiers, electrical systems, and Ruth’s drums were all waiting.

As the aircraft took off again, Ep!phanee looked down to see two police officers talking to Alexa. She shouted down to them, asking what was going on, but the stadium was far too loud to hear anything. Alexa gave her two thumbs up. Turning back to the crowd, Ep!phanee waved and looked around. The group was completely surrounded by more than 55,000 people.

At last all the instruments were arranged and plugged in. It looked like a guitar store. Steffie had three different basses and a Fender Stratocaster 12 string she needed for a single song. Most fans thought of Steffie as “the bass player” because that’s what she did on stage. In the studio, she performed with almost any instrument. She could play the drums better than Ruth and the guitar almost as well as Penny. She could also shine on anything else that she could strum, strike, or blow into. Penny had twelve different guitars, each on its own stand and each played for no more than three songs. The greatest guitarist alive (some said who had ever lived) Penny could make a guitar do anything she wanted, but the guitar had to feel right for the song. Given the wrong instrument, she was just as likely to bust it into splinters as play it. Piffy had only her Westinghouse Dreadful VII, designed to the specifications of and named for her band mate, though her harmonica, her tambourine, her cowbell, and her South American guiro were resting on a pair of stools.

Just as Ruth had taken her seat behind the drums and the others had slipped their straps over their heads, Mayor Stromfeld rushed across the grass and up the steps to the stage. Whatever speech she had planned was quickly cast aside when she got to the microphone. The constant din of the crowd made it impossible for anyone to really hear what she was going to say. She kept it short.

“New York welcomes the Ladybugs!”

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