The mayor of Nimrod, TX, population three thousand human slaves, sauntered down Main Street utterly unaware of his imminent demise. He wore a brass and silver clockwork gauntlet on one arm, as well as the round, dark spectacles so recently made popular by that band from Liverpool. The Spiders? The Cockroaches? Some unsavory bug, anyway. He likely sported them to hide eyes bloodshot from the alcohol he abused as much as the slaves he supervised.
The weasel who guarded the mayor exhibited a chest plate with gears that whorled and shifted in a senseless display. If I were any judge of such things, the armour also housed deadly weapons that could fire a dozen slugs in a moment.
And I was a judge of such things. My own brother had invented nearly every clockwork available, only to have his designs stolen by Aristocratic Businessmen. Familiarity with his work allowed me knowledge of a certain “glitch” I intended to exploit in my plan to kill the misbegotten leaders of Nimrod.
Such clockworks had been tokens of the aristocracy. Then, as the nation struggled to rebuild from the War Between the States, an alien race had descended on the planet and enslaved us all. The most savage and brutish humans in any given city seized control with the blessing of the Kla’arkians, the aliens who had conquered the Earth.
The new overlords inevitably stripped the clockwork from the corpses of the former aristocracy and wore them proudly. Under the new world order, might made right.
I hoped to change that, even if only in small ways. My name? Zen Bastard.
As the mayor and his bodyguard passed, the monkey on my shoulder chittered and shifted his weight. No doubt, Jinky felt the invisible radio emanations from the clockwork enhancements. Jinky himself was a mechanical creation, one of the most ingenious contraptions contrived by my brother, Scopes, along with the goggles that adorned the bejeweled top hat I had affected as part of my disguise as a debonair aristocrat seeking naughty fun.
I stepped forward. “Excuse me, good sirs?” I jingled a velvet bag of coin. “I hear you hold the most. . . entertaining games in town.” I smiled as lasciviously as possible. “I’m new to town and hoping for. . . some small entertainment.”
The men exchanged a glance, and the weasel grabbed my bag. He examined it, raised his eyebrows in obvious surprise, and nodded to his boss. Well, the damn thing was full of gold. Of course, it passed muster.
I had ways of establishing ties in slave camps that had earned me coin I could use to. . . rearrange the power structures.
“We’d love to entertain such a distinguished gentleman,” the mayor said with an exaggerated Southern accent.
For such vermin, “distinguished” meant rich. Fine by me. It likely also meant egotistical and entitled. The best way to get the better of someone was to convince him you were overly confident. I could do that.
While I followed them into the local tavern/whorehouse, I glanced from corner to corner to convince them the local merchandise, indeed, enthralled me. The women were lovely to be sure, but duty called, and my interests had always been far more hirsute.
In a smoky back room, the requisite props stood in place: a table, cards, several “important” men, and a number of intelligent women of negotiable virtue. All those eyes, many with goggles copied from my brother’s designs, turned to me.
The mayor patted my shoulder. “We have a new player!”
The men applauded.
I grinned. “What’s the buy-in?”
The mayor held aloft my velvet bag. “This will do.”
He handed it to the nearest woman, Penelope.
She weighed it and offered me a raised eyebrow, likely surprised that the bag remained as full as when she’d given it to me yesterday. She was the local leader of a dissident group designed to repel the planet’s extraterrestrial invaders.
“We’re just starting.” Penelope sashayed around the table, drawing me to a conspicuously vacant chair. “Are you familiar with Texas Hold’em?”
I made myself comfortable. “That’s a poker game, right? Texas version?”
“It is a poker game. Are you familiar with poker?” She patted my shoulder and gave the other gentlemen a feral smile I caught by virtue of my amazing peripheral vision.
“Lady, any time someone asks me about ‘poke-her’ I know what game I’m playing.” I winked at the men around the table, who laughed and jabbed each other in the ribs. Ugh. How long would I need to portray this character before I killed someone? “But where are the chips?”
Several men chuckled. The women settled onto the laps of apparent favorites
“At this table,” Penelope said, “we don’t use chips.”
I raised a skeptical brow and glanced around, noting every clockwork contrivance at the table. Fortunately, enough of them copied Scopes designs that my plan to eliminate these men should succeed.
“Whatever do you use?” I gave Jinky a pat.
“Clothes,” blurted a big-muscled bruiser. “And the ladies always lose!” He elbowed the woman beside him. “And the losers do whatever we ask!”
That brought a rough round of cheering from the men around the table.
Wow. Maybe the world-weary playboy persona had been too easy. These yokels bought my story lock, stock, and two smoking barrels.
Well, all the easier to kill them.
I, of course, played it smug. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing I wore the three-piece suit today!”
They all laughed, but it was at me and not with me.
Lovely. They were as stupid and secure in their positions as I had been led to believe.
“Jinky?” I patted the toy, and he rubbed his head against my hand affectionately. “Bought him off a Jap in Virginia.”
“He do any tricks?” the mayor’s bodyguard asked.
“Look, Jinky!” I called. “It’s Tarzan!”
As designed, Jinky rose up and pounded his little metal chest, emitting a call identical to latest series of Tarzan cinemas.
Laughter and applause drifted around the table.
Jinky’s trick always endeared him to folks.
Make a weapon seem a toy, and idiots will beg to play.
The games began, two operating at the same time, although the men at the table only saw the one. While the cards passed hands, and shoes and socks and hats crossed the table, so did liquor. The ladies, aware of both games, saw to it that no glass emptied.
“Another round!” I called every few minutes, pretending to much more intoxication than was true. I hauled out another borrowed bag of gold to keep the liquor flowing.
From Penelope it had emerged and again to her it fled.
Jinky was quite the star, travelling from gentleman to gentleman, fawning over their clockwork appliances, gauntlets and legs and goggles, chirping his admiration. The men all patted his head. As long as they admired my pet, they likely assumed, I’d keep the liquor flowing.
They had no idea. Jinky’s affection for their contraptions was born by his desire to subtly alter them.
After a time, I sat in my shorts, most of the women had lost down to dainty underthings, and the men were drunk enough to surrender weapon holsters and guns hidden in boots. Down to their skivvies, the only weapons they could possibly maintain were the clockwork variety.
And through it all, Penelope poured the drinks, smiled, and flirted.
Until she didn’t.
From her expression, the men had, indeed, been divested of their weapons.
I slid my chair from the table and raised a glass.
Jinky hopped up and down in excitement. Could a creature of metal and wire experience anticipation? Well, if not, Scopes had created a simulation authentic enough that even I wondered.
“My dear gentlemen!” I exclaimed, maintaining the charade of an intoxicated aristocrat, half of which I feigned. “This has been most entertaining!” I tossed a couple of gold coins on the table to keep their attention.
Penelope rolled her eyes.
Well, I was about to liberate an entire city. I could be allowed my moment.
And perhaps I’d imbibed a bit more than I should have.
Not surprisingly, the men sobered and shut up.
The women held their collective breath. After all, they’d bet their lives on my plan.
Jinky jumped up and down, scattering cards and socks, his eyes glowed bright, deadly red.
He screeched and screeched and screeched.
All around the table, gears buzzed and switches flipped thanks to the wonderful Tesla wireless technology that linked Jinky to every device in the room.
For a taut moment, no one breathed.
Then the screaming began.
The mayor’s clockwork gauntlet, designed with pins to keep it in place, yanked his arm off at the shoulder.
The breastplate on his bodyguard fired two slugs directly into his heart.
A clockwork leg on another man had implants to allow the owner to operate the metal limb with a mere thought. It sent an electric shock to his brain that fried it.
The rest of them met similar fates.
“And just so you know,” I announced, probably too late for the dying to hear, “the man who invented all those damn contraptions wasn’t Japanese. He was from Korea. And he was my brother.”
And he was dead. Because of the extraterrestrials these men served.
While blood from the mayor and his underlings poured on the floor, Penelope strode around the table to the mayor, pulled the star badge from his discarded pants, and pinned it to her bodice.
Good. While it seemed like nothing more than a tin badge, as any sheriff might wear, the Kla’arkians handed such trifles to whomever they deemed worthy of leading a slave camp. If someone managed to wrest the badge from an existing mayor, by definition, that person was worthier.
“Congratulations, Mayor Price.” I met her gaze evenly. “But bear in mind I will keep an eye on this city.”
Penelope nodded. “I will do what I can to keep this godforsaken hellhole a livable bastion of humanity.”
That was all I could ask.
She shook it.
“You can’t do worse than these dead bastards.” I smiled. “And that says a lot coming from me.”
“And what should we call you?” She crossed her arms. “You told us your name was Avery Scopes, but I know that’s the man who made the monkey.”
Jinky chittered and played with someone’s eyeball.
I opened my mouth to tell her a lie.
She raised a hand. “Don’t lie to me. Men do that all the time.” One of her perfectly sculpted eyebrows arched. “Please be better than most men.”
Clever. Well, what harm could it do? In its own way, it was also a lie.
“Zen Bastard,” I told her. “My name is Zen Bastard, but you can call me the Hammer.”
“I thought so.” She grabbed my hand. “We’ve heard of you.”
Really? Well, I’d liberated a few slave camps on my journey across the country. Apparently, my fame had preceded me.
“And what have you heard?” I asked. Derring-do? Roguishly handsome?
“That you’re our savior.” Her face glowed as if I were some kind of Messiah.
My heart froze.
I jerked my hand away.
“No. No, I’m not.” I backed away. “I do what I can, but you’re the one who will save this city. You are their savior.”
She pursued. “But you could do so much more!”
“I could do so much more,” I said. “I could get all of you killed.”
That was my destiny. To kill people. That’s why I’d fled from camp to camp liberating humanity, why I’d left Virginia and ended up in this hellhole in Texas.
Maybe I could somehow make up for everyone I’d killed.
Maybe I could pay my debt to karma.
Penelope wanted to follow me? She’d likely die.
“People like my brother Scopes followed me into the fires of hell.” I stared her down. “He died. So did my children. I didn’t even get to bury them.”
Time to move on. I was done there. On the porch, I sorted my clothes.
Voices inside the tavern drew my attention. “I’ve seen someone like that poster,” a man said, “but he were more of a socialite.”
“The man I seek wears many disguises,” a familiar voice said.
Oh, hell. Him. His tone low and patient, as always.
Everyone called him the Persian. I was one of a very few who knew his real name. He was the right-hand man to the President of the Confederate States of America, the Lady Hope Kennedy. I’d last seen him on a beach in Virginia. He’d asked me to stay to fight the invaders.
Why had I left? Because I had killed too many.
Thousands. My fault.
I couldn’t bear to add his name to the list.
“Where is he now?” the Persian asked. “What does he look like?”
I couldn’t move. Hearing his voice broke my heart. Again.
“Fancy suit,” the unknowing bartender said. “Wire-rim spectacles. Sparkly top hat. Very proper.”
The Persian chuckled. “I’d guess he might surprise you.”
My heart shrank. I dropped the spectacles on the porch and stumbled into the street where I dropped the hat. He couldn’t find me. Not here.
I would get him killed.
My stupidity likely would get me killed one day. Fine.
But no one I loved would ever die because of me. Not again.
I dropped the shirt in the street.
Then the trousers.
Most people dried their clothes on lines.
I stole a pair of jeans. And boots.
I kept Jinky and the goggles.
Everything else I left behind.
I’d find a hat somewhere, to protect me from the sun.
The rest of it I didn’t need.
Blast the heat. Had the aliens managed to make Texas even hotter? Penelope Price wouldn’t have put it past them. Just for spite, the damn Squids. No one really knew what the aliens looked like, but their ships resembled enormous manta rays, so folks had taken to calling the aliens “Squids.”
They’d rained death and destruction across the planet, and they’d enslaved the entire human race and left the worst dregs of humanity in charge of places like Nimrod, Texas, where Penelope plied her wares as a professional woman of negotiable virtue. Until she’d had enough of the evil bastards who ran the town and hired the savior known as the Hammer to rid the town of the vermin who’d been in charge.
The Hammer had killed the mayor and his cronies, and Penelope had snatched the badge from the mayor’s chest and taken the job with the Hammer’s blessing.
And now he was leaving. Heat radiated from the dirt road in waves. The Hammer dropped his clothes as he walked away. Even his shorts. Then he stole a pair of jeans and boots.
Penelope was Mayor, now. Should she arrest him for theft? No. He’d freed the city, had single-handedly cleared them of the evil bastards who’d lived like kings while everyone else toiled like slaves. Penelope wouldn’t be like that. She’d do her best to help folks thrive despite the alien slavers who really ran the world.
You realize you likely should arrest him,” her friend Norman said, settling beside her with an arm around her waist. “You’re the law around here, now.”
Perfect. Penelope leaned against Norman’s familiar side. “Since you’re the person who told me he was the one to liberate the city, seems a trifle odd you’d be wanting me to arrest him, now.” She squeezed him. “You’re just jealous of his ass.” Norman laughed.
Penelope had met Norman a few weeks before the Hammer arrived in their town. He’d been leaning against a post on the bridge as if he were half-asleep, but when she’d walked past, he’d spoken. “You want to bring law back to this town,” he’d said. “I know a man who can help you.”
She’d laughed at him. Because of her job, she’d heard men say millions of stupid things. “Unless you somehow know the Hammer,” she’d said. “I don’t think you can do a thing.”
He looked up at her. “Funny you should say that. I know the Hammer, and he’s about to breeze through your town.” He smiled. “Unless you find a way to stop him and get him to help.”
He’d tipped his hat back and extended a hand. “Norman Dar, reporter for the Washington Gazette. I’ve been following the exploits of the Hammer, and I guarantee you he is on his way to Numbnuts.”
How funny. “Nimrod,” Penelope had corrected. “Although, not far from the truth.”
It was the little mistakes that had endeared Norman to her. That and the fact that he didn’t seem to hold her profession against her.
And now the town was free, and the Hammer was on his way. Which was his way. He travelled cross-country, single-handedly freeing towns from vile “leaders” who’d taken control after the alien invasion that had enslaved the planet. The Kla’arkians didn’t care who ruled, as long as the slaves produced.
“I thought you liked my ass,” Norman said, bringing Penelope back to the present.
She patted it. “I do. I really do.”
“But you have to admit,” a familiar voice added, “that Bastard has one fine tush.” That was Arabella, Penelope’s best friend.
She glanced sidelong at Norman then at the disappearing Hammer. “Yours is nice, Norman, but we’ve all seen them both, now.” She raised one perfectly sculpted eyebrow. She shrugged.
Arabella had been there through it all. She’d been the first to draw a sword when the Hammer called death on the former Mayor , and she’d been at Penelope’s side when the Hammer’s silver monkey had killed him and his stooges.
“All talk of asses aside,” Penelope said. “The Hammer is gone, now. Norman is here. You’re here. I’m here. What do we do next?”
“Funny you should ask,” Norman said. He left Penelope’s side and faced the two women. “The Hammer is in danger.”
Penelope laughed. “How could someone with that clockwork monkey be in danger?” “
A clockwork monkey can’t save you from suicide,” Norman said.
What? Not only did that make no sense, but how would Norman have any idea what…
He held out his pocket watch. He flicked it open.
Mother of God! A floating image appeared above the timepiece. An image and words! What sort of witchcraft was that?
“Sorry, ladies,” Norman said. “I’m not supposed to show you anything like this, but I need your help.” He shrugged. “The savior of the planet is about to kill himself, and I need you to help me stop him.”
What… the… hell?
…to be continued.
How did Zen Bastard end up in that hellhole?
Why would he want to kill himself?
Does the Persian ever find him?
How does Norman have a hologram?
Did we go from Steampunk to Sci fi?
How will Penelope help the Hammer?
Read A Consequence of Folly for the answers about Zen…..
…and keep checking here for more from Penelope and friends!
About the Author
John Robert Mack lives and breathes in San Antonio, Texas. At least, this year. He sort of pays the bills by teaching dance but continues to build a business writing stuff, taking pictures of stuff, and designing stuff. Although unmarried and with no children of his own, he has nephews he loves and hopes one day to spoil. He wishes to acknowledge Dan Darlington for christening Penelope Price.
Chris Tijerina is a professional model based in San Antonio Texas. Here is his Instagram page to learn more about him, and for booking, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lauren Bleistein is the face of Penelope Price, and her adventures in the Consequence universe are just beginning! Until then, Lauren will keep dancing away! Dan Darlington ( Norman Dar) hopes the story goes to a circus because he is an avid trapeze flyer!
Special guest appearance by Nathan Goss as “the guy in the Doohicky image.” @nathangoss 34
Edited by Lauran Strait, who would kill me if I posted a photo. Here is her Hampton Roads Writer’s page.
Studio photos taken at SA Photographers Studio in San Antonio Texas.