“Time for a little riding music.”
Nandi slipped a small, brown wax cylinder into the phonograph that lay mounted between the handlebars. Two brass horns protruded from the phonograph, out of which a smooth, baritone voice slid – butter-slick – up Nandi’s spine to her eagerly awaiting ears.
She sighed and then began to sing along – “I’d rather be with you-hoo, yeah.”
Nandi flexed her right wrist backward, revving the monowheel’s engine. She released the clutch, which was built into the left handlebar and shifted the monowheel into fourth gear with her left foot.
The engine hissed; the stack that protruded from it belched a cloud of steam and then the monowheel jetted forward.
Cold wind smacked Nandi’s body, pinning her soft, white cotton jumpsuit to her tall, sinewy frame. The large, triangular lapels of the jumpsuit fluttered against Nandi’s smooth, hazelnut-toned face.
Nandi reached up with her delicate fingers and patted her big afro back to its perfectly round shape.
Nandi cranked up the volume on the phonograph.
“I’d rather be with you until I’m through,
Oh, yes, I do.
I’d rather be with you until that day
I fly away.”
Nandi zipped through her bustling neighborhood in the heart of the Songhai District.
She pounded her chest in reverence as she rode past the bronze statue of Chief Sidi Khanga, founder of their great nation, Ki-Khanga – ‘The Land of Khanga’.
Every time she laid eyes upon the statue, she thought of her grandfather, Dr. Bomani Abike, who – like Chief Khanga – was a pioneer.
In 1933, Dr. Abike created the steam engine and began what he called the ‘Industrial Revolution’. In 1958, the genius inventor journeyed to Africa to bring Steam Technology to their homeland. And in 1963, he – and a contingent of Chinese Ki-Khangans from Kun-Lun District – travelled to Beijing and Shanghai to give them the gift of Steam Technology as well.
Now, eleven years later, the whole world has benefitted from her grandfather’s creation and Ki-Khanga has become the wealthiest colony on Earth.
Unfortunately, just as Chief Khanga did one hundred years before him, Dr. Abike went missing while exploring the Green Lands beyond The Great Wall of Ki-Khanga.
The First Nation inhabitants of Ki-Khanga warned him that the creatures in the Green Lands – monstrous offspring of the indigenous spirits and the dark spirits summoned by the Anglo-Witches who once lived beyond The Wall – were too dangerous…even for his Steam Tech weapons, First Nation divine magic and the newly developed Chinese Aether-Tech combined. Dr. Abike did not heed the warning and had not been seen since 1966.
Nandi quickly closed upon a towering, brass skeleton clock that loomed in the distance.
The aether torch at the apex of the clock – affectionately called ‘Shiny Bones’ by the inhabitants of the province of Center Gate – glowed with an intense, white light.
Shiny Bones also served as the lighthouse for the airships that patrolled the skies over Middle District.
Nandi darted into the Center Gate Constabulary’s parking lot, speeding past the fleet of steam-powered, horseless carriages into the section marked ‘Gatekeepers’.
Nandi slid into her parking space – lot number 010 – and then leapt from her seat.
Her platform shoes struck the pavement with a dull thud.
“Hey, Gatekeeper…what it is, what it was and what it will be?”
Nandi turned toward the source of the rich tenor voice. “Constable Kojoe! Nothing shakin’, sugar. How are you?”
Constable Kojoe’s lips curled upward into a broad grin. His brilliant, white teeth were in stark contrast to his nearly black skin. “I’m better, now that I’m laying eyes upon you.”
Nandi rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You better keep those peepers on Liu Fong, there, dig?”
The handcuffed giant standing at Constable Kojoe’s left flank leered at Nandi. “No worries, Gatekeeper; I’m a kinder…gentler man, now that I’m married and all.”
“You just broke your father-in-law’s jaw, four ribs and his right femur,” Constable Kojoe said, yanking on Liu Fong’s handcuffs.
“I didn’t kill him,” Liu Fong replied. “But I will kill you, if you yank on those cuffs again.”
“I am so afraid,” Constable Kojoe snickered, yanking the cuffs a bit harder.
Liu Fong snarled and clinched his fists. His massive forearms flexed, expanding his thick wrists. The handcuffs snapped open and fell to the ground.
The giant hammered his elbow into the back of the constable’s head.
Constable Kojoe collapsed to the ground.
Liu Fong turned and darted across the parking lot.
Nandi gave chase; her long, wiry legs propelling her toward the giant – a lone lioness running down a rhinoceros.
She exploded upward, pouncing onto Liu Fong’s massive back.
The giant tried to shake her loose, but Nandi already had her arms wrapped around his neck and her legs clamped about his waist, holding him in a boa constrictor-like grip.
Nandi squeezed hard with her arms, compressing Liu Fong’s neck to half its girth.
The giant’s scowling face went slack and then he collapsed to his knees.
Nandi released his neck and the giant fell, face down, onto the pavement.
“Sleep tight, Sugar,” Nandi said, patting Liu Fong on the top of his bald head.
She then sprinted over to Constable Kojoe, who was pulling himself to his knees as he gently massaged the lump on the back of his head.
“Did you get him?” Constable Kojoe asked.
“He’s out like a baby after breastfeedin’, dig?” Nandi replied.
“Solid!” Kojoe exclaimed.
Nandi helped the constable to his feet. “Go get him before he wakes up, Sugar.”
Constable Kojoe sprinted toward the unconscious giant. He paused for a second and called out to Nandi. “Let me repay you for this…how about dinner…tomorrow?”
Nandi blushed. “I usually eat dinner around seven.”
“I’ll pick you up at six,” the constable replied.
“Solid!” Nandi said, stepping through the Constabulary Station’s brass double doors.
Nandi sauntered toward the elevator. She reached into the breast pocket of her jumpsuit and withdrew a copper key. Nandi slipped the key into a hole in the elevator door and turned it counter clockwise.
The door slid open. Nandi hopped into the elevator. The door slid shut behind her. She slipped the key into the hole on the interior side of the door and turned the key clockwise. A hissing sound followed and the elevator began to rise.
The elevator came to a halt. The door slid open and Nandi stepped off and into a long corridor. Facing her was a door marked ‘Chief Constable’. Nandi pushed the door open and stepped inside of the capacious office.
Sitting before her was Chief Constable Magaska Hota. Sweat rolled down the furrows in his forehead and his reddish-brown skin had gone a bit pale.
Nandi raised her right fingertips to the corner of her brow in salute. The Chief Constable returned the salute and then pointed toward a chair that sat in front of his desk. “Take a seat, Nandi.”
Nandi lowered herself into the chair. “I got your message, Chief Constable. Is there a breach of The Wall?”
“We don’t know,” the Chief Constable sighed. “But Shi Yan Bo was found dead this morning.”
Nandi sat bolt upright, as if someone had struck her. “What? Since you called me in on this, it must be murder and the Council of Elders must think it’s related to the Green Lands.”
“He was most definitely murdered,” Chief Constable Magaska Hota replied. “And the Council wants to cover all the bases. I mean, damn…a monk…the father of Aether Tech…murdered? Wakantanka, help us all…Kun-Lun District is going to be up in arms.”
“When do you want me to go to Kun-Lun?”
“Yesterday,” the Chief replied.
Nandi rose from her seat. “I’m on it, Chief!”
She pushed the door open and prepared to leave. “Gotta pick up a few things from my locker first.”
“And, Nandi,” The Chief Constable called.
“Yeah, Chief?” Nandi said, peering over her shoulder.
“Try not to kill too many people or blow up too much stuff on this one.”
“You’re asking a lot, Chief,” Nandi replied. “But, I’ll try.”
She flashed the Chief a brilliant smile, waved and stepped into the lobby. Nandi turned to her left; just past the Chief Constable’s office was another door. She withdrew a small, silver key from her breast pocket and used it to unlock the door. She opened it and stepped into a room illuminated by aether light.
The walls of the room were lined with large, bronze lockers, each six feet in height and four feet wide. On the face of each locker was a brass plate with six tiny, bronze levers protruding from it. Using the tip of her well-manicured index finger, Nandi pushed the first lever to her left down; she pushed the second one up; the third up; and so on, until she had completed the combination.
A whirring noise came from inside the locker and then the door opened a crack.
Nandi pushed the door open and stepped inside the locker. The door shut behind her and she found herself in a pristine white room that seemed to run on forever. Before her were endless rows of weapons, armor and strange looking devices.
“Corset…shotgun…engram iconoscope,” she shouted.
A few minutes later, something in the distance sped toward her. As the speeding object drew close, a shiny, silver table came into view. Atop the table was a silver cage and inside the cage were a few items.
The table came to a smooth stop a yard from Nandi. Nandi approached the table and inspected the items in the cage. Satisfied, she removed them and the table sped off, disappearing into the alabaster distance.
Nandi wrapped the crimson, leather corset around her torso. The corset tightened around her body and then molded itself to fit her frame. Nandi loved it. Not because of how it enhanced her sensuality – which it most certainly did – but because it had protected her from many a bullet, claw and stinger.
She picked up the shotgun and admired it. The weapon – customized to her specifications half a decade ago – was as beautiful as it was deadly…like Nandi, which is why she named it “Junior”. The steam-powered, semi-automatic weapon was a masterwork of iron, bronze and brass. Nandi slipped a bronze ammunition drum into the weapon and then slapped it to lock it into place.
Nandi then picked up a copper box by its handle and walked toward the exit. The door flung open. She stepped out of the locker and the door slammed shut behind her.
Nandi exited the locker room and walked back to the elevator. After entering it, she slipped her key into the door and turned it clockwise.
The elevator rose higher. When the elevator stopped, Nandi removed her key and the door slid open. Nandi stepped out of the elevator onto the roof, where two dirigibles sat. One, with ‘Center Gate Constabulary’ – in brass plating – embossed on the mahogany frame of its carriage; the other, smaller dirigible, with ‘Gatekeeper One’ engraved into its bronze-framed carriage.
Sitting in a booth near the airships were a woman and two men. Their crisp, indigo uniforms and the trio of gold stripes on their sleeve cuffs informed their positions as airship pilots.
One of the men approached Nandi, raising his hand in salute. “Good afternoon, Gatekeeper Abike.”
“Good afternoon, sugar,” Nandi replied. I need to take the Ghetto Bird up…heading to Kun-Lun.
“I can take you, but I don’t speak Mandarin and Constable Yip is off today.” The pilot said.
“I speak enough Mandarin for the both of us, sugar,” Nandi replied. “Now, let’s roll.”
“I’m Constable Haokah,” the pilot said as he unlocked the door to the airship’s carriage.
“Wiyuskingyang wangchingyangke le,” Nandi said – “Pleased to meet you!”
“Your Lakota is excellent!” Constable Haokah said.
“Lila pilamalaye,” Nandi replied – “Thank you, very much.”
Nandi hopped up into the airship. Constable Haokah followed her, locking the door behind him.
“Have a seat and we’ll be on our way,” the pilot said.
Nandi placed her weapon and the engram iconoscope on the second bench and then took a seat in the first bench. The oxblood leather felt cool, soft and relaxing. She leaned back, resting her head on the plush cushion and slipped into sleep as the airship took to the skies.
TO READ THIS STORY IN ITS ENTIRETY, PLEASE VISIT http://chroniclesofharriet.com/2012/05/10/nandi-a-steamfunk-tale/.