tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Redhaired Herring

The Redhaired Herring


A NOTE TO THE READER: A life-of-the-party rogue would be known in Ft. Worth as a good ol' boy but in London as a regular Jack the Lad.


I met her on a train.

The Express to Sodom City had been oversold. I observed the girl struggling down the aisle with her valise through the mass of passengers. The chances of her finding an empty seat were nil. In a beret and cloak, the fabric of her satchel as worn as her clothing, she was nevertheless young and pretty enough to have smiled a gentleman right out of his seat for the rackety journey. Next to me a dreadfully imposing fellow crowded the armrest with a rude elbow. His abundance of luggage spilled catastrophically into my limited foot space. To top everything off he began to unwrap a cigar.

I'd wanted to take the Air Shuttle into Sodom City but risked being recognized at the terminal. When those big busses land, the police are as thick as the passengers at all the stations, this time of year especially. High rollers from other colonized worlds like movie stars and politicians aren't the only ones drawn to the Slave Fairs. The illicit festival attracts a criminal milieu from foreign capitols and, due to our small solar system, offworld. A domino mask would not have been out of place, lots of folk don them during the season. But to wear a mask is to invite closer scrutiny of authorities.

No one had been watching as closely a week ago when I had made my reconnaissance. Arriving by air with the fairgrounds and display platforms still under construction I managed to get a hotel reservation. Five days ago I booked a room prior to my departure from Sodom City and paid in advance for ten days to ensure myself lodgings. Stranded at the height of the season would've wrecked all my meticulous planning, and that of others. I had traveled back home for some final preparations, but now returned for opening night.

By train. A bumpy and uncomfortable trip, but necessary to avoid being identified the second I set foot in town during the Slave Fairs. Make no mistake, there's always a layer of police or their agents watching every incoming portal regardless of air or rail. Security is less vigilant of visitors before the season even though they watch people arriving at the stations around the clock all year. I stroked absently at the fake beard glued to my face. It itched.

The girl drew closer. A magician's Guild badge dangled from a slender silver chain around the handle of her valise. The bag was tattered enough to have belonged to her parents, the badge maybe passed on with the suitcase to a daughter on her way to university. My curiosity bristled. The pockets of my longcoat are filled with a number of items, few of which Security would be pleased to find if they shook me down. I cupped one of them in the palm of my right hand and tapped the man in the seat next to mine to get his attention.

"May I offer you a light?" I asked kindly.

My fellow passenger looked askance at me as I held my hand up to the cigar jutting from his mouth. I didn't hold a lighter but a magic charm resembling a sigil or seal. The object caught his attention, and held it. I deplored using the charm negligently, it wore down with every use and had to be recharged, but not by batteries.

I intoned more than said to the man with the cigar, "You have a sudden urge to stretch your legs, do you not?"

"How did you know?" he asked, amazed.

"You desire to stand for the duration of the ride, don't you?"

"Indeed!" he stated with conviction. He rose to his feet, the cigar clenched in his teeth, and began gathering up his parcels and baggage. Before breaking eye contact with him I suggested one more thing as he edged into the aisle of the car.

"Offer the lady in the beret your seat before you exit." He did so; and one final admonition came to mind: "Remember, no smoking on the train."

He nodded dumbly and I stuck the charm back in my pocket.

The girl gave me a tight grin as she squeezed by me to reach her seat. She doubtless thought the man beside me relinquished it out of chivalry. I wanted her to think that and certainly not I'd engineered her sitting beside me. She got herself and her valise settled. I smelt the soap and shampoo she'd used recently. The light spray of freckles across her nose I found as endearing as the untamed mop of red hair. I wagered she wore the beret to keep her red curls out of her face when traveling, or working, not from some sense of fashion.

A loud whistle blew. The old steam locomotive lurched away from the station beginning the four-hour journey. I couldn't keep my eyes from straying just beyond my knee to the Guild badge less than a meter away. The magician emblem, definitely. We rode in silence, the girl and I, she watching the scenery outside. After another kilometer I removed a small book from my longcoat and opened it in my lap. I didn't read it, couldn't read it if I tried, just flipped a page now and again.

That tome never fails to incite conversation from strangers.

Presently she asked me, "Is that a grimoire?"

I pitched my voice unnecessarily low, not because I had to, the drone of conversation aboard the train would make our own indistinguishable as anybody else's, I merely wanted to sound mysterious. Perhaps a hint of intrigue would help break loose some of her secrets. "What would a young lady know of such things?"

She said guardedly, "Not much, but I am interested in magic."

"Are you now?" I remarked, leafing through the moldy leather book. I felt her eyes peering at the pages.

"My grandmother used to be a great magician."

Confiding in me already, I love my grimoire. "Would that be her Guild badge on your valise?"

"Yes, it belonged to her, it's sentimental to me. Are you a, you know, uh, magician?"

She said it a little loudly to be heard over the railway noise. I glanced around before answering but no one paid us any mind. "Hardly. I'm a collector, it's only a hobby, but an expensive one. How about you, are you a member of the Guild?"

She stared out the window at the empty fields flashing by to give her time to formulate her answer. When it came it was defensive, and in the form of an inquiry: "What makes you ask?"

Cagey, like me. I pasted on an avuncular grin. "Just making small talk, thought you might be following in your grandmother's footsteps, you're old enough to have an apprenticeship." I said, "My apologies if I intruded."

"No, it's quite all right. Are you going to Needle City too?"

"Only to Sodom," I lied. "On business." Not a lie.

I saw the gears churning in her mind; the Slave Fairs began tonight. "What kind of business are you in?" she asked a little suspiciously.

"Not slavery if that's what you're thinking. Like I said I deal in collectibles. Precious stones, small valuables like this book." I gestured with it. "Are you visiting Needle City?"

More caginess. "What makes you think I'm going there and not Sodom?"

"You're not the type to be going to Sodom, especially during this time of the season. Needle City is renowned for its cabal of magicians, your grandmother being one and all." I underplayed the city's reputation, a seething hotbed of wizards and sorcery was more like it, their atrocious Court rife with back-stabbing intrigue.

The girl admitted, "I know somebody in Needle City, except I have to pass through Sodom to get there."

"If you take the red train next time instead of the blue one," I said offhand, "you can go directly to Needle City. The red train doesn't make a stop there."

She shrugged. "I didn't know, thanks for telling me."

I let a moment elapse. "Your first time to visit?"

Her nod told me it might be her last. She extended her hand to shake, smiling suddenly. "I'm Diana Duffy-Maguire."

I pinched the front of my hat brim while giving her one of my favorite aliases, "Dr. William Faustnight."

"How do you do, Dr. Faustnight?"

"Just plain Willie please. I'm not very much older than you and the doctor honorific sounds stuffy."

"Sorry," Diana squeaked.

"Don't be, my fault for acting aloof. Wllie's fine."

"Fine," she said, smile in place.

Steel wheels clattered along the track, a constant rhythm in the back of my thoughts. As the Express lumbered on, we rode without talking, but not for long. "What are you reading about, Willie, if you don't mind me asking?"

"Afraid I wouldn't be able to understand this if I could read it, it appears to be written in some type of runic script." I handed the book to her. "Maybe you can decipher it."

She held the musty thing reverently in her hands and said, "Where did you get this?"

"It's purloined," I said, casual, mysterious.

She laughed. "Oh really?"

"Really really," I insisted. "But like your valise, this has been handed down through generations of my family. I don't know who originally stole it."

Diana paged through the book, fascinated.

"Do you comprehend any of it?" I asked.

"I wish!"

"You wish for what?"

"Some kind of power."

"An odd wish. Why?"

"Power might make me rich."

"Wealth isn't all it's cracked up to be," I mentioned, "or so I've heard. Neither is power."

"Well, I'd rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it."

"There happens to be an intellectual concept that riches and power don't equate to happiness, not always."

"I'm too young for such abstractions."

I laughed at the redheaded pseudo-intellectual's thinking but asked a roundabout question: "Are you visiting granny in Needle City?"

Diana shocked me by simply saying, "Oh no, my grandmother is dead. It's Sharak-Fauz I'm going to see."

Had I not known better I'd've thought the police had cleverly planted her on me. When I recovered from the shock of hearing the name I ventured, "There's a Sharak-Fauz who's a sorcerer in Needle City. Not the same Sharak-Fauz, probably?"

"No, it's the same one I'm sure. You've heard of him?"

I said slowly, "Of course, he's rather notorious."

"Do you know how to find him?" she asked eagerly. We were co-conspirators by now.

"No," I lied, "Why's a girl like you hunting Sharak-Fauz?"

"I'm not hunting him."

No, but I was.

"Let me rephrase that, Diana, why do you want to see him?"

"I'm only joking, you had your magic book so I just made it up on the spur of the moment. My grandmother mentioned his name and I never forgot it. Sorry, I get silly sometimes, making stuff up. Thanks for letting me see this." She handed me back the grimoire.

Diana was lying and she gazed out the window not wanting to talk anymore. The train entered a tunnel, the rumble of the rails a sudden roar.

I needed to find out what she wanted with Sharak-Fauz. As much as I hated to do so I would have to use sex magick on her. With an 18 or 19-year-old girl like her getting in touch with her carnal emotions would quickly and most effectively dislodge the real truth. I palmed the charm in my pocket once more.

"Diana, what do you think of this little curiosity?"

"How beautiful." And dangerous, my lovely.

She became ensorcelled by its swirling images like the man with the cigar. I let her look upon the amulet a while before employing the power of suggestion. It took longer for her than my former passenger.

I instructed her, "Put your left hand inside your panties."

Her arm moved. Her hand reached surreptitiously across the traveling cloak and came to rest on her knee. Diana resisted the suggestive qualities of the charm. I restated she put her hand in her panties. She pulled her skirt up enough to reveal the crotch of them but stopped there.

"Put your hands inside your panties," I repeated. "Stimulate your clitoris until you have an orgasm."

"Mmm," she moaned, smiling dreamily, her eyes slits, hands motionless.

I felt bad about what I'd have do to divine the purpose of her visit but took comfort in the fact I'd done my best, refrained from wrapping an arm around her like a lover and coaxing her with my own fingertips. I'm a gentleman, sex was my not goal and if it were the Slave Fairs lay less than three hours ahead. If the girl didn't cooperate I'd be forced to take matters into my own hands, so to speak. After two more attempts she wouldn't budge, frozen there with faraway eyes. More than likely if I could get her to have an orgasm I'd be able to successfully induce the power of the charm. I glanced around at the other travelers nearby, the available seating had sorted itself out, only a few stood. Those not watching the landscape pass buried their head in a paper or engaged their neighbour in conversation. The tall train seats afforded her and me with a smidgeon of privacy.

I leaned close to her as if we gazed out the window together. My fingers pulled her powder blue satin panties aside to reveal a set of shaven pubes. I figured I'd encounter a scarlet thatch! Her labial lips resembled the sticky halves of a glazed doughnut pushed together. The hood of her clitoris was hidden by the plump folds of flesh between her thighs so I slid a long finger inside her, delving until I located the rugged patch behind her pelvic bone. Diana gasped in pleasure as I began to massage the spot, accommodatingly parting her legs for improved access.

A minute or two passed then her front teeth began fretting at her bottom lip. The cadence of her breathing changed, her eyes glazed like the open lips below. She squeaked with an orgasm, like when she apologized. I made her squeak twice more before I asked my first question.

"Are you a member of the magician's Guild?"

"No," she groaned, my finger now gliding languidly in and out of her.

"What do you want with Sharak-Fauz?"

"I'm going to kill him," she whispered.

"Are you with the assassin's Guild, dear?"

"No," she said in a purr. The scent of her arousal wafted to my nostrils, my own strained against my trousers. The downside of the procedure.

I concentrated on my line of questioning. "Such an innocent girl plotting a murder, why?"

"He drove my grandmother into exile, away from her friends and her passions in life. She went to a premature grave at 61."

The intrigue-riddled corrupt Court drove many a magician out of Needle City into exile, a familiar story. And Sharak-Fauz sat high on the Court, giving Diana motive and, if left to her own devices in town, opportunity. My finger ceased probing.

"Discounting the fact that murder is against the law, how do you intend to kill a powerful mage like Sharak-Fauz?"

"A knife in the heart will kill any man in spite of his skills."

"True enough however intending to stab a man to death and having the nerve to do it once the big moment finally presents itself are often opposite things."

"What do you mean?" She shouldn't be asking me questions, the charm and interlude of sexual bacchanalia were failing. Not only that but the randy girl had grasped my wrist, tugging so I'd resume my fingering.

"There's an increased sense of doubt and hesitation when the humanity factor kicks in. Even with a gun a normal human being hesitates. Have you ever shot anyone?" Guns are illegal in both Sodom and Needle City, which doesn't mean people don't have them. They are scarce, unless you're a copper.


"Then it stands to reason you've never killed anybody face to face with a knife either. That's about as up close and personal as murder gets, not letting a bullet do the work for you but doing it yourself. You strike me as too humane for the task."

"I'll have the courage when the time comes," she squeaked.

"How do you plan to get right up on your target?" I asked, withdrawing my finger from her slippery depths.

She frowned, either in disappointment or at what she was about to say. "Sharak-Fauz is a lecher and pervert, me enticing him to cuddle up ought to be easy."

Well, she had that part correct.

Fate, divine intervention or coincidence cast the girl on the train my way. A classic unknown quantity, the proverbial cosmic wild card, Diana was an unseen variable who might upset my well-laid plans. To circumvent the possibility of her tumbling them into ruination I'd be forced to take preventative measures.

Had I taken the Shuttle our paths likely would've intersected later rather than sooner. Fortunately I'd bumped into her on the Express before we got at cross purposes. Unfortunately I'd have to waste more magic on her. I couldn't let Diana pursue her plan of murdering Sharak-Fauz, I needed him alive for my plan.

"When we get to the station, Diana, we shall share a carriage into Sodom City. Rearrange your clothing to be decent again."

Again I felt a twinge of guilt but I had business to conduct in Sodom and, later on, Needle City and would stoop to any means keeping it from getting fouled up by anybody, idealistic young girls included.

I must iron the wrinkles out of my scheme before the train arrived, ignore the by-product in my trousers from the previous operation with Diana. My suggestion might do the trick although she resisted better than most others: we'd share a cab for an unplanned side trip to my hotel room. I'd leave her there in a heavy trance while I carried on my business with Sharak-Fauz.

Diana shifted in her seat. "Trade places with me. Good, the armrest detaches, I want to put my head down and nap and don't want it pointed at the aisle."

"You're going to rest with your head in my lap?"

"If you don't terribly mind, Willie."

I moved into the window seat. She undid her cape to use as a blanket, lay down and threw it up over the beret covering her head. None of the other passengers noticed or had any interest. A good thing too, while underneath the cloak the wicked little minx unzipped my trousers and set my uncomfortable erection free. She comforted the stiffness in the warm sanctuary of her generous mouth and the depths of her throat. Over a particular bumpy section of rough track too much of me thrust unexpectedly deep and I heard a muffled choking under the cloak. When my moment came she dutifully ensured no stains on the front of my trousers would cause later embarrassment. My head swam and I exhaled audibly. How was I to calculate that equation in with my careful planning?

After drinking down my copious outpourings not once, but twice, the girl dozed, my mind writhed like a snake cut in two. By the time the locomotive wheezed into the station dusk had fallen. When we rattled to a stop Diana lifted up, resettled the beret on her curls and pulled her cloak around her shoulders as if nothing untoward had transpired.

I needed not to suggest we share a ride, she did of her own accord. I don't know if I was surprised or not. As we trudged down the crowded aisle she'd turned back to me and said: "Since we're both going into Sodom we should take the same cab."

"I don't object, you're a pleasant traveling companion."

"So are you," she said, lowering her eyelids cryptically.

I stepped onto the platform eyes open for Security. The wind tugged at the flaps, epulats and belts of my longcoat, whipping the tails around the calves of my legs. Except for what I brought in my pockets I carried no luggage. I stashed a few necessities at my lodgings during my recent trip. A gust of air blew making me snug my hat tighter on my head. Some coppers nosed about as usual, but with head down and hat brim low I hustled Diana by the arm through the station.

Because of the powerful magic lobby's influence the Court has an unhealthy stranglehold on the Congress. A technology ban of ten items is in place and The Law; explosive devices and firearms top the list, not a bad idea, but the other nine have kept this world primitive. The entire planet is a lopsided mixture of modern and ancient, science and sorcery. Movies exist, as do cameras, but not radio, telephones, television, or computer access. The Court's decree banning gas combustion engines forces the automobile industry to hawk its wares elsewhere in the solar system. Travel by horseback is popular; but the bicycle, for some reason, is not. There are approximately two dozen scattered spaceports where the big interplanetary and intraplanetary Shuttles take off and land. Since these air terminals are bastions of technology they are heavily watched as I mentioned earlier, guarded by Security on the lookout for saboteurs and spies. Train stations are less troublesome for a man wearing a fake beard like me.

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