This is the first in a series of short stories based on a game called GASLIGHT. The stories are about some of the characters from our games and are separate from the Star Wars stories.
Welcome to Port Victoria
The H.M.S. Devonshire was finally secured to the large wooden pier at the end of the docks. The Devonshire was a passenger steamer that had just finished its first trip to Quazistan and Port Victoria. Vanessa Downe had come home at last after sixteen years. Her father had taken her to his homeland to be raised and educated in England so she would have every advantage that type of upbringing would give her. She was after all half-cast and only partly English in the eyes of her full-blooded English compatriots.
The gangplank was secured and the first class passengers began to disembark. Venessa watched the people as they held onto the railing. After the long voyage they still needed to gain their land legs again.
She was ashamed to admit that she found humor in their dilemma because they had been so rude to her by ignoring her attempts to make friendly conversation. She was never able to understand how a people that took such pride in honor and respect could be so hypocritical when dealing with anyone that wasn’t English.
“Second class passengers may get ready to disembark in five minutes.” The steward called out from the upper deck. Venessa had been lucky enough to be able to obtain a second-class suite. Her aunt and uncle made sure she was capable of having that modicum of privacy unlike the poor wretches in third class that found themselves living in large open group dormitories without even the luxury of portholes to circulate the hot tropical air. At least the Captain allowed them to sleep on the aft cargo deck at night if they wanted to.
Vanessa picked up her suitcase and valise then started down the stairway to the gangplank. The new comers to Quazistan were fanning themselves due to the high temperature. Most were English and not used to the heat and humidity common in this latitude. Vanessa however had missed the warmth of her homeland ever since the first day she stepped off the boat that took her to England so long ago.
She was excited to be in her homeland again and finally have the chance to see her father once more. Years ago he had come to Quazistan as a young naval officer in the service of her majesty. He later admitted to being young and brash and he treated the local inhabitants very badly. Like so many other officers he took a local woman as a companion. He gave her money so she could keep an apartment for him, as well providing other services. He often treated her in a fashion unbecoming that of an officer but unfortunately this was also common practice as well as never spoken of. Soon she was with child and he quickly deigned any responsibility for the child. He left her alone and penniless. Vanessa’s mother went to the mission station up stream where they took her in and cared for her. Despite pleas from the old Parson at the station her father continued to deign his responsibility for the child. Months passed and her mother gave birth to a beautiful girl child that she named Vanessa.
Years passed and Vanessa and her mother remained at the mission working for the various religious orders there. Venessa was a quick learner and soon was fluent in both English and Quazistani.
During that time her father began to feel remorse for his actions the older he became. He had on occasion seen Vanessa in Port Victoria as she accompanied the Parson on his trips too town for supplies.
Vanessa knew that he was her father and would try to wave at him but he would just turn away.
“It’s not your fault Vanessa, your father just isn’t ready to do what’s right.” The old Parson would tell her.
“Vanessa! Vanessa Downe!” yelled a man on the docks. He was a Quazistani by the looks of him. He looked to be from the western lands by his deep rich dark skin. The westerners were said to be descendants of Africans who settled that area hundreds of years ago.
“Miss Downe, I was sent by your father. He has booked passage up river for you.” The man smiled.
Vanessa waved acknowledging his statement and made her way down to the dock to meet him.
“I am Abdalla I work for Mr. Jack Cooper. He owns a river boat that your father has booked passage on for you.” Abdalla said as he took her belongings.
“Thank you very much Abdalla, I’m glad to meet you.” She said.
He smiled back at her politely and motioned for her to follow him.
Vanessa was in awe of all the new buildings in the town. There was even a steam locomotive that could be seen at the far end of the street. People were milling about all around her as they went about their daily business. She watched as a fresh column of British soldiers marched down the main street. They had been on the ship with her but it wouldn’t have been proper for an unescorted woman like herself to have spoken to any of them. They were most likely headed towards the garrison at the edge of town to begin their tour of duty here.
“Who lives in that house?” Vanessa asked. The house was huge and sat overlooking the entire port.
“That’s the General’s house miss. He’s the big headman her. All the good British men do what he says, he’s a very brave man they say.” Abdalla said glancing over his shoulder as he led the way. They continued on their way too the smaller docks down by the freight yards. This is where the riverboats docked. The river flowed down from the highlands in the center of the continent and out too the sea past Port Victoria. Abdalla led her to a small side-wheeler moored at the end of the dock. The name on the vessel simply read “Eastern Princess”. The craft was only about sixty-five feet long or so. There was a cabin like structure in the center of the vessel where the engine and boiler were as well as some room for storage. The front and back of the boat was open but covered by a heavy roof that doubled as an upper deck where the pilothouse was. In hot climates like this there was little use for small confined cabins on a vessel this small. Two men were loading the rear deck with crates and sacks destined for the mission station and other settlements up river.
The man on the dock was Quazistani like Abdalla, both being from the western part of the country. The man on the boat was light skinned, most likely a European. He looked to be in his early thirties and well muscled. He seemed to be the type of man that worked outdoors all his life by his strong arms and ease of handling the heavy cargo.
“Captain Jack.” Abdalla said announcing Vanessa and his presence.
“I’ve brought the daughter of Parson Downe’s like you told me to.” He said smiling.
Captain Jack turned and looked at Vanessa for the first time. She was very pretty indeed. Her mixed ancestry seemed to have brought the best traits of each race together to give her an exotic look that few men wouldn’t notice. He realized he wasn’t wearing his shirt and quickly put it back on as not to embarrass the young woman.
“Captain Jack Cooper at your service.” He said extending a rough hand to her in greeting.
“Ah, an American. I’ve never met an American. Oh excuse me my name is Vanessa Downe. My father is the minister at the mission station.” She said shaking his hand.
“Yeah I know your old man pretty well. He’s a bit eccentric…but in a good way.” He replied.
“I’ll give you no argument there Mr. Cooper.” She said smiling. Her father had lived an extraordinary life and he was known to be a non-conformist to say the least.
“Well the trip is going to take all day so if you want to find a nice comfy spot up front I’ll make sure your belongings are stowed away.” Jack smiled.
“Thank you Mr. Cooper.” Venessa smiled and went forward.
“Am I your only passenger Mr. Cooper? She asked.
“You’re it. There have been rumors of a new gang of river pirates operating upstream so my passenger list has fallen off even though this is the safest boat on the river.” He said wiping his brow.
Jack watched the girl as she climbed onto the boat.
“Careful Mr. Jack, the Parson wouldn’t like you looking at his daughter that way.” Abdalla said grinning. The other crewman smiled along with Abdalla.
“Knock it off you two, I was just making sure the poor child didn’t slip when she climbed aboard.” He said smiling back and just a little embarrassed.
Vanessa made herself comfortable in one of the padded wicker chairs at the bow of the ship. The upper deck shielded her from the sun and there were rolled up bamboo shades that could be drawn on either side if necessary.
“Okay men cast off the lines and stoke the boiler, next stop, mission station.” Jack said as he threw the last bag onto the rear deck.
Vanessa remembered the day her father showed up at the mission station. He looked terrible as he stood at the gates watching the funeral procession for her mother go past. She had taken a fever of some sort and had died very suddenly. Vanessa almost didn’t recognize him as she followed along behind the wagon carrying her mother’s coffin.
When they came back from the service her father was no longer at the gates. She had hoped he would have spoken a word or two too her at least but it wasn’t the case.
The old Parson called Vanessa into his office from across the courtyard. It seemed odd that he had a smile on his face at a time like this. Vanessa hurried over to the Parson’s house and met him on the steps at the front door.
“There’s someone here that wants to meet you Vanessa.” He said smiling as he took her hand and led her into his private office. There she saw her father sitting in the chair in front of the Parson’s desk.
“This is your father Vanessa.” He said. Vanessa didn’t know what to do. This was the moment she had dreamed about as long as she could remember but she found herself frozen in place.
Her father stood up and walked over to her and knelt.
“I’m your father Vanessa.” He said with tears in his eyes.
“I’ve been a coward. I was afraid to live up to my responsibilities child. Now it is too late to make amends to your mother but I can give you every advantage in life I am able. You see child I’ve resigned my commission in Her Majesties Navy and intend to take you back home to England. It’s all arranged. We will live with my sister and her husband. They are wealthy and have connections. It is my wish that you are educated in the finest schools and I will begin my new life as a minister. I wish to return to Quazistan some day and help the people I’ve treated so terribly for so long.” He said placing his hands on her tiny shoulders.
Vanessa stood staring at this man before her. Was this really happening? “Oh yes father.” She said throwing her tiny arms around his neck. They both cried for the years that had been wasted and the mother that would never see this day.
Toka-toka-toka. The steam engine puffed as it paddled its way upstream. Vanessa was exhilarated at the speed this craft was making.
“Have you modified the engine Mr. Cooper? This vessel certainly seems faster than most that I’ve been on.” She asked. Jack had turned over the controls to Abdalla and come down to attend to his passenger.
“It’s not the engine Miss Downe, it’s the fuel. I use a special mixture that I’ve developed during my time on the river. It’s a secret formula you might say.” Jack said proudly.
“Oh how exiting. You must be very clever Mr. Cooper.” Vanessa turned the chair around to give him her full attention.
Jack smiled and pushed out his chest a little more than usual.
“It’s all about using what’s at hand Miss Downe. I’ve traveled half way around the world to get here so I could be my own man. I didn’t have the money for the crossing so I worked on a few steamers until I finally was able to get here. I’ve had to live by my wits I’d guess you’d say. That kind of life makes you more alert too what’s going on around you.” Jack said as he sat across from Vanessa.
“So how long have you been here in Quazistan Mr. Cooper?” she asked.
“About five years. After our civil war I sort of became disillusioned with things. I never did have any family to speak of and watching all that suffering just wore me out. I wanted to see the rest of the world and how others lived. At the time there were American businessmen starting new enterprises in Quazistan so I decided to come here and see the place for myself.” He said.
“You must find it agreeable since you’ve been here for all those years.” She smiled.
“What are you kidding? I love this place, nobody telling me what to do. Just me, my boys, and my girl.” He said patting the side of the boat. “We do just fine the four of us.” He said with a very content look on his face.
“Where did you find Abdalla and the other man?” she asked.
“They found me to be exact. A few years ago I was going through a bad spell. Those two men asked for a job and helped me get back on my feet. I trust them completely.” He said.
“I don’t mean any disrespect but isn’t that unusual for an American to feel that way about the darker races?” she asked. She was curious to hear his answer since she had felt the sting of racial superiority herself.
“Well Miss Downe it’s like this. That way of thinking nearly destroyed my country so I figured that I’m just going to judge everybody one at a time. After all those fella’s don’t dislike me because of my white skin so I guess we can just call it even.” He said grinning.
“Well said Mr. Cooper. It’s a shame you’re in the minority amongst most people.” Vanessa said.
“ Most people are idiots Miss Downe, that’s why I traveled so far just so I can get away from them.” He said looking up river suddenly.
“I see it boss!” Abdalla called down from the bridge even before Jack could raise a warning.
Vanessa saw it too. Another small steamer was coming around the bend in the river in their direction.
“What do you make of her Abdalla?” Jack called up to the bridge.
“She’s new boss…never seen her on the river before.” Abdalla said squinting to get a better look.
“I don’t see a flag.” Jack shouted.
“Me neither.” Abdalla replied.
“It might be a good time to get down on the deck Miss Downe.” Jack said calmly as he opened a cabinet containing several lever action rifles.
Jack was surprised to see Vanessa take out a twin-holstered gun belt from her valise and fasten it around her waste. She reached down and pulled out both revolvers and calmly checked to see if they were loaded.
“Uh, Miss Downe, what are you doing?” Jack asked apprehensively.
“I saw you arming yourselves so I’m doing likewise.” She said calmly.
“Zefa!” Jack called too the second crewman who was already coming through the cabin to get his rifle.
“Miss Downe if that boat has river pirates on it like I believe it does they won’t give one hoot that you’re a woman.” Jack said trying to remain cool and collected.
“Wonderful Mr. Cooper, I suggest you do the same.” Vanessa said smiling.
Jack sighed heavily. He didn’t have time for this.
“Okay but if you get killed don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Jack replied handing Zefa two rifles. Zefa ran back inside the cabin and up to the bridge to give one of the guns to Abdalla.
“Here she comes boss.” Abdalla shouted. The other steamer suddenly turned and headed straight for them.
The other steamer showed no sign of life except for the occasional head popping up and down in the pilothouse.
“Get down Vanessa.” Jack said pulling her down close to the deck.
The steamer was still closing.
“Hey boss?” Abdalla called.
“Hard to port Abdalla, now!” Jack called back.
The Eastern Princess heaved too port as if a giant hand had reached down and turned the ship where it sat. Venessa then remembered that being a side-wheeler the Eastern Princess could reverse one paddle wheel and leave the other going in a forward position. This caused the ship to spin in place unlike the approaching ship that had only a single paddle wheel in the rear.
The two boats were now parallel with each other but facing in different directions.
“Let ‘em have it!” Jack yelled. The Pirates had all been stationed on the bow of their vessel awaiting a successful ramming. Jacks sudden maneuver foiled their plan leaving them unsure of what to do next. Abdalla and Zefa quickly cut down the pirates that stood up from the upper deck and bridge with their rifles. Jack fired repeatedly at the pilothouse of the attacking vessel in an attempt to keep the wheelman’s head down so he couldn’t change direction. Jack glanced over to check on Vanessa only to see her taking careful aim and shooting only when a target presented itself. It was clear that even though she was nervous she had been well trained in the use of firearms.
The pirates began to organize themselves and return fire. Jack pushed Vanessa onto the deck falling on top of her by accident.
“Mr. Cooper!” Vanessa protested.
“I slipped, I slipped…I’m sorry.” Jack shouted back as he scrambled to get off of her. The awkward moment was ended by several shots striking the cabin exterior behind where Vanessa had been kneeling.
“Boss! We should get going!” Abdalla yelled as the pirates began targeting the bridge with their muskets.
Jack scrambled into the cabin and beyond into the engine room. Vanessa watched as Jack’s shadowy silhouette was lit suddenly as he opened an iron box that had been lying on the floor. An eerie blue light emanating from the large blue crystals inside lighted him up. He grabbed one and tossed it into the firebox of the ship’s boiler and kicked shut the firebox door with his foot.
The orange glow from inside the box turned blue and then bright white. The old steam engine began chugging at double, and then triple the normal speed. The paddles on the side wheels seemed to dig into the water suddenly as if a new force had taken over the workings of the engine. The paddles started to spin faster and faster raising the Eastern Princess a full foot higher out of the water.
“Here we go again boss!” Abdalla yelled from the bridge.
Jack looked at Vanessa and yelled to her to hang on. The
ship lurched forward and began to pick up speed. Faster and faster the ship went as it fish tailed away from the stunned pirates and their own vessel. Vanessa looked back at Jack stunned at the speed the vessel was going.
“Secret formula!” he shouted over the rattling and shaking of the near bursting steam boiler.
Vanessa crawled to the side of the ship and looked behind them. They had outdistanced the pirates by at least one hundred yards in that short amount of time. Abdalla could be heard in the wheelhouse above her laughing with excitement at the sudden speed.
The pirates ran to the back of their boat and fired their muskets one last time out of frustration. Zefa looked back and banged his hand hard on the side of the boat. Jack looked at Vanessa and smiled. Evidently the banging sound meant something to Jack. It was the first time she realized Zefa was a mute and was showing his amusement at the situation.
Jack pulled himself up against the unstable back and forth motion of the over taxed boat and pulled down hard on a large metal ring fastened to a chain. There was a loud whooshing sound as huge funnel of steam was released into the air through a make shift venting devise. The boat quickly lowered itself into the water and slowed down to its normal running speed within a few seconds. Jack jumped up and looked behind them. They had easily gained a lead of two hundred yards on the pirate ship. Jack laughed and kissed the side of the boat’s cabin.
“That’s my good girl.” He said grinning.
“They’ll know better next time ‘eh boss?” Abdalla yelled down through the opening in the floor of the bridge.
“Good work everyone! Drinks are on me when we get back!” Jack yelled.
Abdalla let go with two short blasts on the ship’s whistle to show his approval.
“Miss Downe I have to say I’m mighty impressed by your shooting. You’re one calm cucumber.” Jack said as he helped her up off the floor.
“Not at all Mr. Cooper, I’m shaking like a leaf.” Vanessa said holstering her pistols and fumbling for her kerchief.
“My father made it a priority for me to learn how to defend myself once I told him of my intentions here.” She said dabbing the perspiration from her forehead and neck daintily.
“What are your intentions Miss Downe?” Jack asked. He was so used to the British women simply taking care of the homes and children while their husbands went about the business of the Queen that he never thought that she may have…intentions.
“I studied archeology in school you see. There isn’t any real information on the ancient world off the Quazistani people so it’s my intention too explore this continent and make a record of my people for the libraries of the world Mr. Cooper.” She said proudly.
Jack stared at Vanessa blankly for a moment.
“You’re going…out there?” he asked pointing his thumb at the jungle over his shoulder. He knew how dangerous the jungle could be and the thought of this refined and educated young woman deep in the wilderness sent shivers up his spine.
“You’re forgetting Mr. Cooper that I was raised here and played in the jungle everyday. I learned about the dangers from a very young age. If you’re worried I promise you I’ll be careful.” She smiled confidently.
“Hey, it’s your neck but I hope you consider taking someone with you if you go out there.” Jack said.
“I’ll be certain to consider your advice Mr. Cooper.” Vanessa replied. She liked this man. But she couldn’t help teasing him a little. She understood his concern was genuine if not a little condescending. She had proven herself proficient with firearms and reliable in a tight situation but he still only saw her as a woman.
“I hope you do Miss Downe. I would consider it a tragedy if you were injured or killed.” He said removing his hat in her honor.
Vanessa smiled at this comment. In England she knew men looked at her and found her attractive but they would never be able say so because of her mixed breeding. It made her feel good to be flattered so openly.
“I hope to be going on expedition with my Professor from college, Dr. Jacob Oxley. The good Professor became so curious about Quazistan’s history that he had to come and do some research here for himself a year ago. He’s been staying at a village a few miles north of the mission station for a while and he asked me to join him and aid in his field research. In his letter he also wrote saying that he had come across an ancient manuscript written by a Chinese explorer over two hundred years ago. The book is in poor condition and some pages are missing entirely but it tells about ten ancient cities lost during the great exodus. The ancient tombs and chambers of these cities are said to have many long lost scrolls and books full of forgotten knowledge. However the book also tells about the locations of these cities and also the huge amounts of treasure they still conceal.” Vanessa explained.
“Yeah, I’ve heard about places like that too. I always thought it was just a bunch of hooey to be honest with you.” Jack said.
“That’s why I’m here in Quazistan. I’m going to get my first chance at learning about my ancestors.” Vanessa said smiling. “Dr. Oxley is meeting me at the mission station today then after a short visit with my father we’ll start off after the first lost city.”
“You should be careful who you talk to about that book Miss Downe. There are a lot of bad people along this river and they would do anything to get their hands on it.” Jack said in a very serious tone.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. Jack took over the helm while Zefa and Abdalla went about their duties as well as patching up the stray musket ball holes the ship took during the failed attack. They reached the mission station just after dark. There was an ominous silence over the whole area as if a great malevolent force had dropped over the area like a death shroud.
“What do you think it is boss?” Abdalla asked Jack.
“Not sure.” Jack replied as he squinted up river into the darkness. He could make out the outline of the old Chinese fortress that was now the mission station. Torches and lanterns illuminated the dock and the watchtower as if the inhabitants were looking for something, something evil.
“Hello! Hello in the mission!” Jack yelled into the darkness.
He moved the “Eastern Princess” even closer with one hand on the ship’s wheel and one on the lever action rifle next to him.
“Who goes there?” a voice shouted in reply.
“It’s Jack Cooper. Is Parson Downe nearby?” Jack responded.
“I’m here Jack, did you get my daughter. Is she safe?” he yelled.
“It’s me! I’m alright father.” Vanessa shouted. She could make out the image of her father as it stood up on top of the wall.
“Good work Jack. Dock your boat and come on inside. We have too talk.” The Parson said as he turned and went back down to the courtyard.
Jack docked the ship at the pier that jutted out into the river. He had Zefa carry Vanessa’s bags as Abdalla and he kept a sharp look out with their guns in hand as they all made their way up to the massive wooden doors of the mission station fort. One of the locals that worked at the mission opened the doors and let them in. They all hurried to the relative safety of the Parson’s house to find out what was going on.
Vanessa’s father greeted her with a hug. At once she knew something was wrong.
“What is it father?” Vanessa asked almost afraid to know the answer.
“It’s Dr. Oxley my dear. He’s been murdered.” The Parson said.
“Who would want to murder him? He was a good man.” Vanessa asked as tears filled her eyes.
The Parson looked up at Jack as to include him and his men in the conversation.
“It was Sheetz. That devil Langston Sheetz and his henchman, John Pike. Him and those mercenary cutthroats raided the village. They were looking for slaves for his mines and poor Jacob must have tried to stop them.” The Parson said.
“Did you find his book?” Jack asked suddenly.
“What book?” the Parson asked bewildered.
“Vanessa! If Langston Sheetz has that book he’ll pillage every sight and lost tomb on the continent. He’ll destroy everything you want to achieve.” Jack said.
“Who is this man Langston Sheetz anyhow?” Vanessa asked wiping her eyes.
“He’s no man…he’s a monster.” The Parson said.
If you have enjoyed these stories please check out my first all original book series at Amazon.com. The title is Beyond the Crystal Heaven.
Once again thank you for your support.
Last Updated (Tuesday, 10 September 2013 01:35)