Leco and The Wipsters
Captain Lou closed her eyes and inhaled deeply.
Aah, that familiar mixture of aromas; Tolex, Kevlar, engine oil, curry.
She opened her eyes after what seemed like an age and hungrily took in her surroundings. The bridge of the Leco, her starcruiser; it seemed like an age since she and her crew had stood in this spot.
Reconnected to the Source, Ricardo the Astral Bard had beamed them back on board from the Plains of Kardomah before Bombardier Walker had to talk his way out of a potentially tricky situation. Now that they were able to travel through time unimpeded by the threat of the Galactic Council it appeared that some of their future adventures were catching up with them – before they had even taken place!
‘So tell me again’ said Sonic Architect Parsons, ‘you went back in time three years from now, and found yourself in the mid-twentieth century on Terra Gaia?’
‘That’s right’ said Bombardier Walker, ‘and I had a romance with a beautiful lady. I almost stayed in the nineteen fifties, but I was brought back by a deep sense of duty.’ The Sonic Architect couldn’t help noticing the cheeky grin on the Bombardier’s face. ‘Yeah, right’ said Jeff, ‘that and the fact that spaceweed was very scarce back then!’
The Bombardier’s face became serious; ‘I did love her, though, but it wasn’t meant to be. Imagine coming face to face with your son who is actually older than you!’ [See the previous episode!]
‘Yes, Terra Gaia is a strange place’ said the Sonic Architect. ‘I can’t help feeling that we will find ourselves back there before too long……..’
‘Stations, Leconauts’ said Captain Lou. ‘It’s time to move on’.
Just then the Vistascreen crackled into life and a grizzled but cheery face appeared. ‘Sir Cavan of the Dale!’ exclaimed Captain Lou. ‘To what do we owe this pleasant surprise?!’
Sir Cavan smiled. ‘I hear you’ve been adventuring on Terra Gaia’ said the grizzled space cowboy. ‘News travels fast’ said Captain Lou. ‘I hope you haven’t heard anything untoward?’ she ventured.
‘Only things which were so outlandish, even by your standards, that they couldn’t possibly be true. Time travelling, love-children, spaceweed….’ Captain Lou quizzically cocked an eyebrow.
‘You know you can’t believe everything you hear on the spacevine, Cavan’ laughed Captain Lou.
‘That’s as maybe’ said Sir Cavan, ‘but I don’t put anything past you and that bunch of renegades you call a crew!’
With that Captain Lou saw the barrel of an ancient weapon called a six-gun come into her field of vision. Sir Cavan pointed it over his shoulder and pulled the trigger. There was a deafening report followed immediately by a high-pitched squeak and a small thud.
‘Spacerats!’ muttered the venerable galactic pirate.
‘Still cleaning up your ship in the old-fashioned way, I see!’ laughed Captain Lou.
‘It keeps me on my toes’ said Sir Cavan. ‘Now, Terra Gaia. I need to go there on a matter of some urgency and I was wondering if you may care to accompany me? There may be trouble; some cosmic rustlers have kidnapped my Ramrod, and they’re holding him to ransom. A spacepulse came in a few minutes ago. They want ten bags of spacecoin for his safe return.’
‘Ten bags of……’ Captain Lou was stunned. ‘That’s an almighty sum – how do they expect you to raise that?!’
‘They don’t, said Sir Cavan. ‘They expect me to miss the deadline and then they’ll send me his lariat wrapped around his head’.
Captain Lou realised she would have to return to Terra Gaia with the gnarly space outlaw. The man in question, Sir Kelvin of Richmond, was an old friend who was among the happy band who had defied the Galactic Council and gone renegade all those quitons ago.
‘OK’ said Captain Lou. ‘Our flangectors are at your disposal……..’
Captain Lou rushed through the dry gulch, the wind blowing back her hair. She was sitting astride a great white horse called Silver, and was being pursued by what seemed like the entire Apache nation. Arrows flew past her ears. Suddenly, from a track on the side of the gulch, she was joined by Sir Cavan and two of his crew, Mad Marty and Dangerous Dexter. They steered her toward a stand of pine trees and through a crack in the canyon walls. The Apache thundered through the gulch and into the distance. She reined in Silver and turned.
‘Wow’ said Captain Lou. ‘I’ve not had that much fun in ages, Cavan! I’ll have to visit your holodeck more often!’
They were on board Sir Cavan’s ship, the Lucky Strike, a Silverado class Starcruiser quite unlike the Leco.
‘Yeah, we know how to enjoy ourselves’ said the space cowboy. ‘Now let’s get some chow.’
‘What are you having?’ asked Captain Lou, fearing she already knew the answer.
‘Beans and grits’ replied Sir Cavan. ‘Thought as much’ said Captain Lou. ‘I’ll take a raincheck. Why don’t you come over to the Leco later and I’ll break out our best sippin’ whiskey?’
‘It’s a deal’ said Sir Cavan. ‘See you later’. He turned to Mad Marty. ‘Now, gimme a shot o’ redeye and leave me the bottle!’
A couple of quintalogs later the Transference Spot on the bridge of the Leco began to glow with the hue of purple sage and the imposing form of Sir Cavan appeared. He was dressed in a fine three-piece suit, a silk shirt with bootlace tie and a bowler hat. He took out the pocket watch which nestled in his waistcoat pocket and consulted it after swinging it twice round on its heavy gold chain.
‘Right on time’ he said, with some satisfaction. ‘Now, where’s that sippin’ whiskey?!’
‘Welcome aboard, Cavan’, said Captain Lou. ‘We need to make a plan. Who do you think has kidnapped your Ramrod, and what can we do to rescue him?’
‘Oh, I know who’s got him’ said the grizzly renegade. ‘The galaxy’s most fearsome law enforcement officer.’
‘No!’ gasped Captain Lou. ‘Not…….’
‘Yes, I’m afraid so; Marshall Fender Gibson……………….’
Marshal Fender Gibson; three words which could strike fear into the heart of even the doughtiest of space renegades. Many were behind bars or dead because of him.
He had been the Galactic Council’s Head of Security for many decasepts until his position had been undermined then usurped by the redneck upstart Jackson Charvel Peavey. Peavey had come along with fancy new ideas and the Galactic Council had fallen for it, opting to fix that which wasn’t even broken.
Gibson had then turned renegade himself, and now made his living as a galactic bounty hunter. If he had Sir Kelvin in his clutches then there was a whole world of hurt up ahead.
Lurid tales abounded of Gibson’s life and exploits. It was said that he had been born in a crossfire hurricane and had lived in a house by the roadside made from rattlesnake hide. This dwelling was rumoured to be surmounted by a chimney fashioned from a human skull. Apparently Gibson had shot a man in Renoville, Nevadaland, for the simple pleasure of watching his life drain away.
Every bunch of galactic renegade space pirates could tell stories about Marshal Fender Gibson. He travelled in an impossibly ancient ship, the Lonestar Stratocruiser, with a bunch of oddball characters including his deputies, Les and Paul, and his mistress, a fandango dancer named Miss Lulah.
‘OK’ said Captain Lou. ‘Let’s see what we can find out about our friend Gibson.’ The Vistascreen crackled into life and Ricardo the Astral Bard punched in a series of characters on the ship’s Masterpad. At once a figure filled the screen; a collective gasp issued from the assembled renegades.
Dressed all in black, with a cobra snake necktie, a stovepipe hat and a silver star pinned to his chest, a malevolent force seemed to issue forth from the screen and chill the watchers to the very bone.
Sir Cavan broke the silence; ‘sure is a ugly little critter, ain’t he?! Ornerier ‘n a rattler! Hot damn!’
Captain Lou felt the black eyes boring into her very soul, hypnotising her. ‘Switch it off’ she ordered, a note of panic discernible in her voice. Ricardo shot his eyes left and right and the screen went blank. Captain Lou felt the breath shoot back into her lungs. Steely purpose arose in her soul.
‘I think it’s time we taught Marshal Fender Gibson a lesson’ she said. ‘He needs to know just who is the rootinest, tootinest varmint east, west, north and south of the Pecos Nebula………………!
Sir Kelvin of Richmond opened his eyes. He couldn’t say for sure where he was, or indeed which way was up and which was down. Gradually his senses began to orientate themselves. He could feel cold stone underneath his face, and his wrists and ankles seemed to be in very close proximity to each other. He realised he was hog-tied and that a billhook fastened to a rope had been inserted between his limbs. He was suspended but not enough to take the weight of his body from his face.
He became conscious of movement to his left. A familiar sound presented itself; the gentle squeak of a rocking chair, just like the one on his porch in Tupelo City. A voice, somehow familiar.
‘Well now, lookee what we have here! Wakey wakey, lil’ dawgie!’
‘Oh no’ thought the hapless Ramrod. ‘That’s Fender Gibson!!!’
‘Yes it is’ said the Marshal, as if he had read Sir Kelvin’s mind. ‘And whut am ah goan do with you, huh?’
‘You better let me go, Gibson, or you’ll be callin’ down a whole heap o’ trouble onto your miserable head’ said Sir Kelvin.
Gibson stood up sharply. ‘You ain’t in no position to shout the odds, cowpoke!’ he exploded. He kicked out at a lever just within Sir Kelvin’s field of vision. Kelvin noted that the foot was encased in a snakeskin boot which bore a silver spur. As the boot connected with the lever the tension on the rope holding him relaxed and he crashed to the floor with a dull thud.
‘Now, you be a good dawgie and ah’ll cook you up a mess o’ mountain oysters and we’ll wait for your buddies to pay us a visit.’
‘You think they’ll come here?’ asked Sir Kelvin? ‘I think they’d be more likely to walk into a nest of rattlers!’
‘Oh, they’ll come, ok’ said the sinister lawman. ‘Ah done made them an offer they couldn’t well refuse, dagnabbit!’
‘And what was that’ asked Sir Kelvin, with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice. ‘All the refried beans they could eat and fire water to wash ‘em down?!’
‘That too’ said Marshal Gibson, remaining calm in the face of Kelvin’s provocation.
‘But mainly, ah offered ‘em ringside seats to see me tan your miserable hide and hang it out to drah………….!’
‘One thing is puzzling me’ said Mad Marty. ‘If this Marshal Gibson is a bounty hunter, why hasn’t he turned Sir Kelvin over to the Galactic Council and claimed the reward?’
‘Because’ said Sir Cavan, with a note of impatience, ‘he obviously thinks we’ll try to rescue our Ramrod, and then he can bag all of us and get an even bigger reward!’
‘Aah, I see’ said Marty, somewhat abashed.
‘I wonder just how far ahead he’s thinking’ said Captain Lou. ‘Do you think he expected that you would come to us?’
‘I wouldn’t put it past him’ said Sir Cavan. He’s slipperier ‘n a whole mess o’ eels, more cunning than a desert fox, more wily ‘n a coyote…..’
‘Yes, we get the picture’ said Captain Lou. ‘Then we are just going to have to be more cunning and more wily than him!’
‘Hmmph’ snorted Sir Cavan. ‘You plannin’ on makin’ it rain in Death Valley while you’re about it?!’
‘How could we get under his skin?’ asked Ricardo the Astral Bard, mischief playing around his eyes. ‘What’s the most precious thing he has?’
‘Well now, if’n you leave out his pearl-handled Colts, then I guess we’re talkin’ ‘bout Miss Lulah!’ said Sir Cavan.
‘Of course’ said Ricardo. ‘Bombardier Walker, I think we may have a mission for you……..!’
Bombardier Walker opened his eyes and quickly took in his surroundings. His shipmates had used the One Source to transport him back through time and space, calculating that he would arrive on board the Lonestar Stratocruiser whilst Marshal Fender Gibson was off kidnapping Sir Kelvin.
A strange mixture of aromas assaulted his nostrils; hog grits, saddle leather, gun oil and lilac water. The interior of the ancient ship was lined totally in rough timber; indeed, pretty much everything he could see was made from this rare and endangered material, apart from the several stuffed buffalo and grizzly bears which stood like silent sentinels along the supranormal trail.
He cautiously moved forward, making no sound. He was skilled in the art of tracking, having been taught by an Amangu Elder whilst sojourning in the Great Southern Land.
He followed the scent of lilac water through to a chamber which was draped in diaphanous shrouds of coloured damask. Music was issuing from the horn of an ancient device which he knew from reading history books to be a phonograph. The rotating disc on the archaic machine’s platter and the lilting sounds emanating from the large horn were almost hypnotising in their strangeness.
And there she was; gyrating sinuously, her back turned to him, Miss Lulah, Marshal Fender Gibson’s odalisque. Bombardier Walker prepared to ensnare her with a paradiddle trap. Just as he was about to unleash the aural lasso, Miss Lulah turned.
Howdy Bombardier!’ she drawled. ‘Ah’ve bin expectin’ y’all!’
‘Captain Lou!’ he exclaimed, and fell into a dead faint………..
Bombardier Walker woke as if from a profoundly deep sleep and opened his eyes; a face hovered over him. The blurry shape came into focus and he saw – Captain Lou. Except, it wasn’t quite Captain Lou, at least, not the one he knew. This was a version of his commanding officer which looked some twenty dodecamoons younger.
‘Y’all done woke up!’ exclaimed the eerie doppelganger. ‘Ah hope that lil’ ole tranquiliser mist ah sprayed on y’all hasn’t turned your stomach.’
Bombardier Walker suddenly felt the need to vomit. ‘Who are you?’ he spluttered.
‘You can call me Lulah. Now, what’s a nice boy like you doin’ in a godforsaken hellhole like this?’
Bombardier Walker remained silent, apart from an occasional gurgle as his stomach churned.
‘Playin’ hard to git, huh? Well, ah can wait. When mah man gits back he’ll have you singin’ like a canary!’
At the same time that Bombardier Walker was waking to see Miss Lulah standing over him, his crewmates together with Sir Cavan, Mad Marty, Sophie of the Rose and Dangerous Dexter were approaching the Lonestar Stratocruiser in the Lecopod.
‘Retro thrust’ said Captain Lou. The Lecopod came smoothly to a halt. ‘So that’s the Lonestar Stratocruiser’ said Sonic Architect Parsons. ‘I never imagined I’d get to see it from this close.’
‘Magnify’ said Captain Lou. The ship drew nearer in the Vistascreen. A small curl of smoke was coming from a structure on top of the ship.
‘Well, I’ll be doggone’ said Sir Cavan. ‘That chimbley is made from a human skull!’
‘He’s no ordinary lawman, that’s for sure’ said Captain Lou. ‘OK, we wait for Bombardier Walker’s signal then we beam on board.’
A sextaset later no signal had come. ‘This doesn’t feel right’ said Captain Lou. ‘We should have heard from him by now.’
Ricardo opened his mouth to speak but stopped dead as a beam of light, looking for all the galaxy like a huge lasso, issued from the Lonestar Stratocruiser and wrapped itself around the Lecopod. Within seconds the tiny vessel began to move inexorably towards Gibson’s ship.
‘Reverse thrusters’ called Captain Lou. Nothing happened. ‘No response’ cried Ricardo. In a few short moments they were alongside the Lonestar Stratocruiser; their airlock whooshed open. Marshal Fender Gibson himself stood framed in the doorway. There was a moment’s silence, and then he spoke.
‘Welcome to mah humble home! Y’all come on in! Take y’r shoes off! Set a spell……….!’
‘Where’s mah Ramrod, Gibson?!’ yelled Sir Cavan of the Dale. ‘If you’ve so much as……’ But Gibson was oblivious to the protestations of the grizzled space cowboy. ‘Hello Lou’ he said, with real tenderness in his voice.
‘Hello’ said Captain Lou, momentarily thrown off guard by this unexpected greeting.
‘Don’t remember me, do ya?’ said the spectral figure.
‘No’ confessed Captain Lou. ‘That is, I mean, I’m not sure.’
‘Space School’ said Gibson. ‘I was the kid who sat at the back; the one no-one else ever paid no mind to. I watched you every day for two dodecamoons and you never once noticed me. Too busy makin’ eyes at that Dream Weaver!’
Miss Lulah approached from inside the Lonestar Stratocruiser and stood beside Gibson. Captain Lou gasped. She was looking at her younger self made real.
‘Purty, ain’t she?!’ said Gibson. ‘Class Three replicant. Got her from a feller named Tyrell in Angel City.’ Miss Lulah regarded Captain Lou coldly. ‘Howdy y’all’ she drawled. ‘Pleased to make your acquaintance.’ Captain Lou noted that Miss Lulah didn’t look very pleased at all.
‘Ah figured if’n ah couldn’t have you then she would be a fine second best’ said the gaunt galactic law enforcer. ‘But now, well; here you are!’ He smiled, his hands stretched out toward Captain Lou.
Suddenly it all made sense in Captain Lou’s mind. Dodecamoons of obsession had led her, her crew and Gibson to this place, at this time. Time… Time… Her mind raced.
‘Where is my Bombardier?’ asked Captain Lou.
‘He’s keepin’ your Ramrod company.’ He directed this at Sir Cavan. ‘Gittin’ on like a house on fire! Which brings me nicely round to why ah asked y’all to join me. When ah was a boy mah daddy taught me how to skin a buffalo in thirty seconds. Some things you never forget.’ He pulled out a huge knife from underneath his jacket. ‘Wonder if ah can still do it?!’
‘No!’ said Captain Lou. ‘What do you want, Gibson?’
‘Please, call me Fender.’ He looked straight at Captain Lou. ‘If’n you was to see your way clear to joinin’ me here on the Lonestar Stratocruiser, why, ah could put ever’body else back in yo’ pod and let ‘em hightail it outta here. The galoots at the Galactic Council need never know! You and me, we could be one helluva team. We could clean up the galaxy, yesiree!’
‘Time…’ thought Captain Lou. ‘Time…’
‘Please, Fender.’ Captain Lou spoke softly and warmly, her eyelids half-lowered. ‘I’d like to see my Bombardier.’
It worked. ‘Follow me’ said the black-hearted lawman……….
The crews of the Leco and the Lucky Strike were standing in a dungeon in the bowels of the Lonestar Stratocruiser, the starship of the galaxy’s most feared law enforcement officer, Marshal Fender Gibson. In actual fact, two weren’t standing at all; Bombardier Walker and Ramrod Richmond were both hogtied, suspended from ropes attached by pulleys to beams in the ceiling.
‘What’s it to be?’ Gibson fired the question at Captain Lou. ‘Are you goan take up with me, or do ah git to practice mah skinnin’ skills?!’
‘Lulah!’ It felt strange to Captain Lou to hear a name so similar to her own issue from her mouth, directed to someone who was a replica of her younger self. ‘It’s time!’
‘Time…’ said the artificial lifeform. ‘Time……’
Lulah bounded across the room at dazzling speed and within seconds had Marshal Gibson hogtied and his own Bowie knife held to his throat. Her foot shot out and hit two levers simultaneously. Both bound crewmen fell to the floor.
Lulah pressed the knife against Gibson’s throat. ‘Ah know what y’all was plannin’!’ she said. ‘You was fixin’ to reprogram me into domestic service operative mode! You snake in the grass!’
‘No, Lulah’ said Captain Lou. ‘We’ll turn him over to Lord Ron and the Council of Renegades. We won’t stoop to his level.’
Lulah withdrew the knife and Gibson breathed a sigh of relief. ‘And that’s more’n y’r sorry ass deserves!’ said Sir Cavan.
With that the dungeon door flew open and Admiral Bunting sprang into the room, a basso profundo flangector pointing straight at Gibson.
‘What kept you?’ asked Captain Lou. ‘Don’t worry, Captain’ said the Admiral. ‘Everything’s under control!’ With that a tiny pistol on a metal track emerged from Gibson’s sleeve. He managed to get his finger on to the trigger and pointed it at Captain Lou. Admiral Bunting was just about to spray him with slap and pop basso flangector fire but Ricardo was too quick; the look in his eye was blind fury rather than the usual mischief and within a split second he had the hapless galactic vigilante in a Vulcan Nerve Pinch. The Derringer fell to the floor followed quickly by the incapacitated Marshal. ‘It is now!’ said the Astral Bard.
‘You saved my life!’ said Captain Lou. ‘You’re welcome’ said the Astral Bard. ‘You saved mine often enough!’ She stepped towards Ricardo and planted one tender kiss on his lips; Marshal Gibson moaned like a man who knew his soul was lost. Miss Lulah kicked him hard but missed both his legs. He moaned again. ‘Holy mountain oysters!’ exclaimed Sir Cavan.
A septalog later and everyone was celebrating at the Temple of Song in Kardomah City, Terra Gaia. Spacejuice flowed, merry was made, feet were stomped and spacechants beamed into the aether to the delight of the assembled multitude.
When the revellers had dispersed, Sir Cavan turned to Captain Lou. ‘Somethin’ bin puzzlin’ the hell outta me’ said the gnarly space outlaw. ‘How in hell tarnation did you manage to make Miss Lulah turn on Gibson like that?!’
Captain Lou smiled. ‘Time’, she said. ‘Time. Since we learned the secrets of time travel Ricardo and I have been developing our skills. We discovered we have a telepathic bond and he can send me through time by the force of his will. If I want to be sent, that is. So when Gibson took us down to his dungeon Ricardo sent me back in time by several dodecamoons. Although I was away for ten septalogs, it appeared to you that I was gone for about ten milliseconds; no-one even noticed.’
‘And what exactly were you doin’ in all that time? asked Sir Cavan, with not a little exasperation.
‘I was getting to know Miss Lulah. She hid me in Gibson’s ship and I told her the truth about him. How he’d had her made to be a replica of me to serve his own ends, and how his heart was hard. How he planned to turn her into a service drone.’
‘And she understood? She believed you?’
‘She did. She knew I was telling the truth. After all, there’s a lot of me inside her. More than I bargained for.’
‘And she agreed to help you? Just like that?’
‘Well, not straightaway. I had to work on it. But, in the end, she knew.’
‘Knew what?’ asked Sir Cavan.
Captain Lou smiled. ‘She knew it was about time!’
Captain Lou and Sir Cavan of the Dale were both reclining in capacious chairs on the bridge of the Leco; they both were completely relaxed, eyes closed, beatific smiles upon their faces.
They had much to be pleased about; they had vanquished the renegade galactic lawman, Marshal Fender Gibson, rescued his odalisque Miss Lulah from a life of service drone drugery, and liberated their two crewmen, Bombardier Walker and Ramrod Richmond, from cruel captivity.
On top of that they had successfully launched two series of spacechants into the aether to the delight of the assembled multitude in the Temple of Song, Kardomah City, Terra Gaia.
At the same time the two space renegades each opened an eye and turned to face the other.
The Vistascreen crackled into life. A strange face appeared and began to speak.
‘Greetings! I am Natecook from the Colorado Nebula. I and my crew have undertaken a mission to seek new life, which has led us to you. We will be landing on the planet you call Terra Gaia on the feast day of Whitsun. On this day we will visit the Temple of Oriley and yawp our spacechant to your galaxy. Will you help us……..?’
To be continued…
By Loudhailer Electric Company’s Sonic Architect and keeper of the sacred flangector, Jeff Parsons
Loudhailer Electric Company and Work in Progress photos by Sydpix, Mike Hood and Melvyn Marriot