Chapter 1: At the warehouse, 1912

Welcome to the serialization of my humorous scifi novel, The Bore of Babylon, Book One: Nate Blackpool, Time Pilot. Please enjoy the story and I welcome your feedback. Start at Chapter 1

Nate shuddered and pulled his collar closer around his neck. The fog settled off the lake, but there were worse things in the mist that could lick at his flesh. He shuddered again. ‘What a cheesy line,’ he thought. ‘This pot-boiled narrative in my skull needs to take a breather, soon.’

“I think it’s hard-boiled, rather” said a voice at his ear. Nate jumped, lost his footing and splashed down into a puddle. A tall form loomed over him for a moment then reached out a hand, sharp talons quickly retracting. “You startled me,” the voice said.

“You?” Nate answered taking the hand, “I’m the one with my ass in the puddle.” Back on his feet, he took off his coat and flapped away the worst of the rain. Three in the morning is never a good time to be wandering near the shipyard alone, but tonight the weather seemed intent on working against him and what would have been a simple bit of observation, turned into a full-fledged steak out. Nate folded his damp trench coat over his arm and frowned. ‘I don’t like this,’ he thought, ‘it feels sneaky.’

“It is sneaky,” the voice answered. Nate turned and looked up. The red eyes of his partner, Flah-psi, peered down at him. A black toque covered the top of his head, hiding his most prominent features, but the triangle nose and distinctive jaw gave him a distinctly leporine appearance. In his own timeline, Flah-psi would be described as coming from a royal line. In the middle of the night in Manchester, he would be described as a seven-foot tall rabbit. Nate sighed. “I would appreciate if you would stop reading my mind and answering me.”

Flah-psi wrinkled his forehead, concerned. “My apologies,” he said, bowing slightly, “your thoughts are loud enough to be voices. I didn’t realize they were not meant for me.”

“We’re too close,” Nate said, turning the corner.

“Yes, for my people when they are in a close relationship, verbal communication becomes unnecessary, and ultimately…”

“Not us…” Nate shook his head, stunned for a moment, “I mean, uhm, no. We’re too close to the warehouse. Look.” He pointed to the squat brick building across the street. Sickly yellow light spilled onto the pavement not twenty feet from the two watchers. Once Nate’s heart stopped pounding, he could almost make out the conversation inside. He stared hard at the sign, repeating “Barnaby’s Electrical Supply” over and over in his mind as if he was trying to remember something. He choked back every other thought. Flah-psi’s presence behind him lessened in intensity. He glanced quickly over his shoulder and relaxed. The rabbit had gone high to take a better look.

And, hopefully, Nate thought, to get out of thought-shot.

Nate didn’t dare move from his dark corner. His target, Mr. Gilmanson, was inside, of that he was sure. Who he was talking to wasn’t actually a concern of Nate’s. This whole adventure started when he saw his prospective client by chance exiting a theater in the South End and, on a whim, decided to follow him. After hours of meandering the streets of this once industrial town, Flap-psi, worried that something had come amiss with his partner — and he even said it like that, Nate remembered ‘come amiss, jeesh,’ he thought, then stopped, held his breath and waiting for a response. All was silent, his fleet-footed assistant high up among the warehouse rooftops and crane elevators. He wasn’t surprised the rabbit had found him so easily in the fog and in an unfamiliar place. His type of rabbits are known for their keen sense of hearing and smell. In Flah-psi’s world these traits had undergone massive evolution to the point of superpowers. All he had to do was listen for Nate’s particular gate, breathing pattern, even heart-beat rhythm — as particular to an individual as a human thumb print, Flah-psi had said. Nate peered up into the gray fluff of night and saw no trace of him. ‘That name though,’ he thought, ‘what are the chances?’

“You often think of my name,” Flah-psi’s whisper traveled from right above his head. “Is it unusual?”

Nate stifled a jump. “Not unusual,” he said, and cringed. He managed not to bring it up until now and hopefully there would be a nice diversion to keep from having the “Flopsie” conversation.

Across the street, one of windows broke outward, apparently caused by the large man flung through it.

Flah-psi disappeared into the fog again as Nate relinquished all attempts at subterfuge and ran across the street. A bulky Northerner lay still in a spill of glass, the yellow lights turning the blood running down his face a burnt orange. As he neared, Nate could smell something distinct coming from the man’s wool overcoat. It was drenched with the stuff. There was a bright yellow flicker in his periphery and Nate yelled “Rabbit! Run!” as he himself bolted as fast as he could from the small explosion that burst forth from the sliding cargo doors. He looked back, the prone man was aflame, but unmoving, letting Nate believe that the man had been dead before he hit the pavement.

“For his sake, I hope so,” Flah-psi answered, and grabbed Nate by the collar, hoisting him easily up into the air and onto the roof of the nearest warehouse.

“I’ll never get used to that,” Nate said, putting his coat back on and walking toward the edge. He wanted to see who else left from the building, like rats escaping a sinking ship. Nate had never been on a ship or a boat or on the water at all, and he wanted to keep it that way. He looked past the burning warehouse to the river beyond and wondered if he would jump into its inky depths if he was on fire.

‘Nah,’ he thought, ‘not even if I was on fire.’ He waited but heard nothing from his partner. They resumed watching the warehouse but unless there was a secret entrance somewhere, no one else left the building.

Dawn was beginning to peak above the city when the fire department finally arrived. Nate and Flah-psi hadn’t called, not wanting to announce their existence to the authorities. An ambulance was sent for, pulled up, and then left, empty. Neither one wanted to wait to see who else showed.

“Well, we seemed to have lost our new client. The Dentist is going to be pissed.” Nate fumbled into his pocket for a pack of cigarettes and lit one, turning back one last time to the look at the sunlight on the river. His partner put a soft hand on his shoulder “you know, even in my timeline ‘inky depths’ is a bit cliché.”

Nate turned to the seven-foot rabbit and looked into his scarlet eyes. There was no trace of sarcasm there. His race, apparently, had never needed much humor. “When your predators are dead, there is no fear to disperse with laughter,” he’d said once. Nate stared for a moment too long and would have sworn that for a moment, one of Flah-psi’s whiskers twitched sardonically.

“Let’s get back to the Onion,” he said, trailing smoke behind him.

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