Edward Lane's Argosy Ch. 07byIan_Ironwood©
Edward considered just walking up to the front gate of the yard and sending his calling card to Gideon via the carbine-carrying Red Indian guards, but he dismissed the thought almost immediately. Such a re-introduction to his friend after so long an absence would seem so . . . mundane, and worse, unstylish. Edward had always been a bit intimidated by his chum's affluence and social position, and even more so by his indifference and disdain for it. Gideon's indefatigable self-confidence and boldness was infectious and alluring, but it could also be overwhelming. Edward could not match it in volume, so he had always sought to complement it with his own, more subtle accomplishments. A common handshake at the gate just would not do for the occasion of their reunion.
Gideon's yard was a large one, on the outskirts of the sprawling Aeroport Paris, as remote as it could be from the center of the busy port's activity and yet still be attached. It took a train and a carriage ride to arrive there from his Spartan accomodations, and when he did arrive the mean dirt track that linked it was already soaked through from the rain, leaving a long, desolate stretch of Parisian mud to trod through. Gideon's installation was remote, but not alone: there were similar compounds ringing the entire periphery of the busy transportation hub, some private enterprises, some leased by governments friendly to the Empire to care for their diplomatic and national airships.
Each one had a painted sign identifying it -- Gideon's yard's read Le Société Panthères de Ciel, Ltd., a curious and somewhat barbaric name for an airship concern. Edward had the coachman merely pass the yard's gate, then turn about and pass it again before depositing him at a supply shed and custom's house half a mile away. The man seemed irritated at the extra distance, but a generous tip insured his courteous departure.
Edward mumbled something about a better view to the civil servant on duty, a junior assistant customs officer of some sort who was intent upon his lunch, and the man waved him in. He made his way up to the tiny three-storey "observation tower", one of many along the wide stretches of the Aeroport, designed to allow passengers, guests, and ground controllers a better view of the sprawling complex. From here you could see the dozens of mooring towers which seemed to be constantly busy with new ships arriving and old ones departing from all over the continent. There was even a brass telescope there, so that the various numerals and symbols upon their flanks could be more readily espied for a mere two sous -- though the overcast and constant drizzle made such attempts overly ambitious. Edward made use of it, but it wasn't the ships aloft he turned it upon.
He scanned the breadth and length of Gideon's yard, where a dozen sheds clustered around a massive wooden hanger that looked like an enlarged barn. The entirety was enclosed by a wooden fence nearly four meters high. The perimeter of the compound was patrolled by some dusky-looking carbine-toting natives of some distant land, who seemed eager to shoot at someone. There were no less than five of them at the gate, itself, and when a few beggar children who seemed to haunt every aeroport he'd ever been in came near, the guards wasted no time in turning them briskly away.
The more Edward watched, the more he grinned. Whatever Gideon was doing in the yard, he did not want it known, that was certain. The utilitarian iron mooring tower that peeked up over the sheds was empty, at the moment, but there were two more keen-eyed lookouts ensconced therein, with long, wicked-looking rifles at the ready, constantly searching the area around the yard. All in all it reminded Edward more of a fortress than a manufactory.
But a manufactory it was. Carts and lorries of all description seemed to be gaining access, once they presented their credentials to the guards, though Edward could see that the crew inside insisted that all materials be off-loaded in the foremost part of the yard, well-away from the hanger. Upon retiring, every vehicle was subject to close scrutiny before it was allowed to leave.
This, then, would be a challenge, Edward decided, as he abandoned the observation tower.
Less so, it turned out, than he'd hoped for. It took only ten francs under the desk to the attendant to discover that Capt. Becker's ship, the Victrix, was scheduled to return from a brief trip to Berlin near sunset -- if, the bitter clerk added, the sun deigned to show it's face today before retiring. A brief walk down the muddy road that swung around the yards provided Edward with the only other essential piece of information he needed to gain access, and the roots of a plan began to form. Yet merely appearing as if out of nowhere was not sufficient to appease his desire for an impressive arrival. He took steps to ensure that his appearance would be memorable.
He took his supper at the wine shop where waiting passengers took their comfort before they embarked, paying far too much for fare that would have made any self-respecting Parisian shudder. While there, supping on the upper porch where he had a reasonable view of Gideon's mysterious yard, he was able to monitor who was allowed in, and who was stopped at the gate by the armed savages that seemed to be everywhere. Edward sketched out some notes in his notebook while he observed, and noted Gideon could have easily been raping innocent schoolgirls by the wagonload within. But any Parisian gendarme would have balked at trying to get past the private army of dark-skinned warriors and their gleaming guns to preserve their virtue.
The interior of the compound held numerous sheds and huts, all surrounding the massive building the fence barely contained. A few of the huts were nearly full houses, and one in particular was easy enough to pick out as Gideon's residence. It was a legitimate house, at lease four or five bedrooms, and it had several servants who went back and forth between it and the gate, or it and the kitchen, or it and the biggest building. If there was a brain behind the hum of activity, it was there. But before he got into there, he had to get past the gates.
Several deliveries arrived while he watched, and Gideon noted that they were each well-searched at the gate, their identities and business no doubt identified, before being aloud to pass within the compound, proper. The walls were regularly patrolled, and the towers at the edges of the yard were constantly manned by his friend's soldiers. And twice while he sat there observing Edward witnessed a savage patrolling the exterior of the fence with a brace of fierce-looking wolfhounds.
It was a formidable defense, to be sure, but as Uncle Pete never failed to remind him, the greater the visible defense, the easier it was to penetrate it once you understood its weaknesses. His uncle used the metaphor of an old widow: though she might protest mightily on the basis of her morality, she was just as willing as any maiden to part her legs when approached properly. By the time Edward had finished his meal and a second glass of vin ordinaire, he knew exactly how to get this metaphorical widow to spread like a whore.
* * *
"So who is that mysterious whore Billy's seein' in town?" Tayanita asked Marta casually as she swabbed an acrid smelling concoction of liquid latex on to a broad canvass sheet in her "laboratory". It bore little resemblance to the pristine German laboratories she'd seen, the French versions at the University and the Academy of Science or even the hastily-built labs back in the Oklahoma Kingdom. Indeed, it was little more than a shed tacked on to the massive hanger building, but it was where she and her protégé, Marta, worked on the millions of questions that needed to be answered before the Argo could be successfully built and launched.
She was testing the comparative weight ratios of rubberized canvas, which the French and British used as the outer envelopes for their airships, compared to the cotton denim cloth the Germans and Italians preferred. The outer envelopes did not need to be gas-tight, of course, as the interior lifting cells were, but they did have to be water-tight, fire-resistant (if not fire proof) yet strong enough to hold together under the punishing conditions of the atmosphere -- but not weigh more than absolutely necessary. Every kilogram of unnecessary weight was a loss.
The Atlan girl shrugged as she continued to stitch together the denim sheet that was next to be coated.
"I am not certain," Marta answered, cautiously. While she loved her friend dearly, the issue of William Bonney had been a sore spot for both of them. "She must be fabelachtig, though. Even the well-born women in Paris dress and act like whores -- how much better, then, would the actual Parisian whores be?"
She and Tayanita had become close friends and confidants, as well as colleagues, despite the problems over the man they had shared. Though Tayanita had been angry and jealous of the less-attractive Atlan woman, as their journey through New Orelans and their adventures with the Moriscan pirates beyond the Florida Straits had overtaken them on their journey to France, Tayanita had recognized a kindred spirit when it came to all things aeronautical. Marta did not have her training and education, being destined for the more feminine world of early matrimony, but she had a nimble mind and a keen eye, and she, like Tayanita, had been around airships most of her life. True, they had been the primitive Atlan variety, but the basic principals were the same. If she did not share Tayanita's talent for engineering, she shared her enthusiasm for building the Argo.
"You ain't too wrong about that," Tayanita admitted with a sigh. "Never saw so much lace and silk in my life as there was in M. Belvoir's gown when she came to call on Gid. And talk about forward: she had her hand on his knee fast as a shot! It's like these French women breathe and sleep sex all the time. Hard for us American girls to compete," she said, a trace of bitterness in her voice.
"Do not worry, misje," Marta reassured her, "They may capture a man's attention for a few weeks, but they tire of them quickly. Or so I've heard," she added, a trace of doubt in her voice. Tayanita suddenly felt sympathetic to Marta -- while she felt inadequate compared to these whorish Parisians, she was still aware of how much more attractive men still found her, compared to Marta, whose wide features and broad nose, not to mention her dusky complexion and dark eyes -- made her homely by most accounts.
Marta had reveled in the brief relationship she'd enjoyed with Billy on the voyage across the Atlantic, but within weeks of arriving at the City of Lights Billy's attention had turned towards the perfumed-and-belaced examples of French femininity the cosmopolitan Empire thrust at him so forcefully. Their romance had faded within days, and had broken within a fortnight, under the pressure of such aggressive competition. Marta still carried quite a torch for the dashing young American, but Billy's eyes were easily distracted. Indeed, even as they had brought the Victrix down in their yard for the first time there had been nearly a dozen airport whores huddled around the mooring tower waving and showing off their cleavage and their slender limbs.
Gideon had put a stop to that quickly, of course. No prude, her half-brother was dedicated to running a smooth enterprise, and complicating matters with on-site prostitutes went against that ideal. He had immediately restricted the entire yard to "outsiders", depending upon his fierce Oklahoman marines to patrol the compound and keep the whores, thieves, and other airport scum at bay. The men were still permitted liberal opportunities to enjoy their illicit favors off-premises, in their off-duty hours, but no one came past the second gate and into the secretive yard without written permission.
But that left the few ladies of the Victrix largely without company. Tayanita was lucky -- she had a few German engineers on her crew she could count on to service her womanly needs, secure in the knowledge that nothing more serious would arise from the liaison. But poor, plain Marta rarely attracted even their brief attention, and it was starting to bother her mightily. She had even started mooning about Billy again, and that could not be a healthy thing to the Cherokee woman's mind.
"Oh, I ain't worried none -- not much, anyway. I know my future last name won't be 'Bonney'," she reassured her friend as she dropped the heavy brush back into the evil-smelling bucket. "But I'm just curious what manner of whore has got him so twitterpated."
"I'm sure she is very beautiful," Marta said, bitterly, as she hung up the denim sheet on the framework she'd built the day before. "A beautiful, sweet-smelling, foul-mouthed nasty Parisian whore," she completed, scathingly. "Probably a Protestant whore, too," she condemned, as if that made it worse somehow.
Tayanita had to giggle -- that was one thing she adored about Marta, her polite forthrightness. Tayanita herself had little patience for the long-winded way the French conducted business, preferring plainspoken American methods instead, and one of the things that had charmed her about the homely Atlan woman was her earnest manner.
"If only there were boy whores, too," Tayanita sighed wistfully as she moved the bucket of latex over to the denim sheet. "They say there are, down in that Moulin Rouge place they keep talkin' about. But from what I gather, they're more interested in other boys than us delicate flowers."
"My 'delicate flower' is in need of some tending, misje," Marta said, wistfully. "And I am near to thinking that paying for the service from a . . . professional gentleman might be the only way that occurs. Not even those savage braves that lope around here will pay me attention!" she pouted.
"Oh, honey, that ain't no way to talk!" Tayanita soothed, lapsing back into the casual English her people spoke at their ease. "Don't worry, if these Frenchies know 'bout anything besides wine, it's how to get their jollies. I heard tale of this device they build here, a special contraption—"
"For . . . masturbation?" Marta asked in a whisper, looking around scandalously. "I, too, have heard such things, but such mechanical abominations must be a grievous sin . . ."
"You can't tell me you haven't rubbed your nubbin before," Tayanita said, aghast. "Every girl does it!"
"Not nuns," Marta quickly pointed out. "Never nuns. And they would whip us if they even thought we had been . . . pleasuring ourselves."
"That doesn't mean you didn't, though," she observed. "You do know how, don't you?"
Marta blushed, her dark skin growing even darker. "Yes. I believe so. There was a girl -- her name was Anchelle, from the coast -- she once showed some of us . . . what she did—"
"And you ain't done it since then?"
"Well, with all that has happened . . ." Marta said, skeptically.
"Here," Tayanita said gently, sitting up on her own desk and drawing up her knees. "I know you have religious objections to this, but watch what I do, at least," she said, not knowing what strange humor had came over her. Why was she being this intimate with the girl? They were friends, close friends, which was unusual considering their peoples were traditional enemies and had been at war all their young lives. Compared to the Parisians, they were practically from the same clan. But this was an intimacy that she had shared with no one. Yet here she was, drawing her skirts up and peeling down the lacy drawers that seemed to be required among the fairer sex in this fair city. Her slender pussy was exposed to her friend's astonished sight. Suddenly Tayanita's loins were heavy with the dew of her excitement as her brown-skinned friend gazed enchanted at her brazenly displayed beaver.
"It's real easy," she breathed, as she parted her inner lips with her fingers. "This up here, that's your happy spot -- rub it. A lot." To demonstrate, she began making delectate circles around her clitoris with her hand, her breathing getting deeper and more ragged as she did so. "You got to relax, though," she said softly as her friend watched her perform the private ritual. "Maybe stick a few . . . fingers inside yourself," she said, exhaling pleasantly, "and run 'em in and out, like they're a real cock . . ." she said, demonstrating, "and it feels . . . real nice . . ."
"Are you . . .?"
"Gettin' there," Tayanita agreed huskily, relaxing a little more, now that Marta had accepted the spectacle of her masturbation. "It ain't as nice as a real dick, but when a girl's got . . . no place else to be . . . and no one to be with . . . it will get you through a hard night. An' sometimes it can keep a girl from thinkin' with her cunny instead of her brain, and that's a help."
"It looks like fun," the Atlan girl admitted, licking her lips.
"Oh, it is, it is," she assured her as her fingers sped up their revolutions around her button. "It's a whole lot of fun -- more fun than most boys, actually. Oh . . . OH! Watch closely, Marta . . . here I . . . go!"
With that the girl spasmed hard as her orgasm washed over her, shook her like a dog shakes a squirrel, and then deposited her gently back to earth.
"There," Tayanita sighed as she pulled up her drawers. "That was simple -- and a lot of fun. And no smelly, nasty, hateful man to deal with afterwards."
"I don't know, 'Nita," Marta said, doubtfully. "The nuns . . . they said it was a sin . . ."
"You been sinnin' since we met, Marta," Tayanita chided. "And you go to church more'n any body here. Weren't you fornicatin' without the blessings of the Church all the way over the ocean? How in hell is that somehow more godly than ticklin' your twat your ownself?"
"Well . . . technically . . . that was rape," Marta justified, quietly. "I was -- am -- a prisoner of war, and therefore I am not in control of my destiny."
"Well ain't you just full of justifications today!" Tayanita howled. "Rape? That weren't rape. I seen rape before, sad to say. If anyone was getting' raped, it was poor Billy. You realize how much noise y'all made? Enough where we could hear over the engines clear back in the Engine Room!"
"If it was rape," Marta sniffed, indignantly, "then it was no sin. That is what the priests say."
"Likely why I ain't a Christian," Tayanita said, shaking her head as she coated the denim. "All them rules about fuckin' -- ain't right. The Spirit put us here with perfectly good working girl parts, Marta, ain't no good reason not to use them as intended."
"Ignorant savage," Marta spat, derisively. But she was blushing deeply at having
"Pretentious slut," the Cherokee princess sneered.
"Filthy Atlan whore!"
"You're courting damnation!"
"You're courtin' cobwebs in your coochie!"
Both women stared at each other, then broke into gales of laughter. It was a common and enjoyable game they had developed to pass the long hours spent running trials on materials and figuring out complex calculations. 'Swearing like an airman' was a common expression, and both women had been around such rough trade for almost six months, and had learned a rich new vocabulary they never hesitated to try out on each other. The exchanges were good natured and intended to amuse, not hurt, and they always ended in laughter. This time, however, the laughter was cut short by the sudden peal of the alarm bell.
"What the hell?" Tayanita asked, confused.
"The alarm!" Marta said in a hushed whisper. "Quickly: how many bells?"