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Prologue “You had best say your goodbyes now,” the doctor said, approaching Cameron. “The angels gather as we speak.” “Don’t let my father hear you say that,” Cameron chided. “Even on his deathbed, he'll find time to ruin you.” Outside the winter wind buffeted against the Dummond’s Chicago estate, rattling every pane of glass facing Lake Michigan. Death clawed at each window and door for an entrance. Entering his father’s bedroom, Cameron first caught the odors of illness; sweat soaked sheets, acrid balms, and sour urine in the chamber pot. The once pervasive aroma of cigar smoke, like the man’s powerful personality and sharp mind, had surrendered to the ravages of time. Cameron shuddered as he forced himself closer. His father’s labored breathing sounded like an engine nearing the station, its steam nearly spent. Cameron pursed his lips as he stifled his relief. At long last, an end. A gnarled, jaundiced, boney hand rose, wavering as Lammont Dummond spoke. “Cameron, son, come closer, let me look at you.” “I am here father,” Cameron said flatly. “Why would you want to see me?” After a raspy laugh, his father replied, “Come now, don’t behave like that, not now.” “Impending death gives you compassion enough to behold your feeble son?” Closer, Cameron peered into his father’s crimson rimmed eyes. Pain, regret, and fear tainted milky blue eyes that once watched an empire grow. “Damn it, Cameron,” Lammont growled. “Have you no heart left for your father?” He forced a polite smile. Give him this one moment. “Certainly pa-pa. I only wish we’d spent our lives together differently.” Crouching beside the bed, Cameron ran his hand beneath it, plucked out a cigar, and placed it in his father’s mouth. Lammont grinned as he savored his final remaining vice. “How’d you know?” Lammont asked. “You’ve never kept a single secret from me, father,” Cameron whispered.

Lammont’s breath halted, his glaring eyes widened in the flickering match light. “What the blazes does that mean?” “Surprised?” asked Cameron as his pleasant facade gave way to genuine glee. “Now you know my secret, I know all yours.” “Preposterous,” Lammont blustered. He managed a chuckle, until choking coughs took over. Cameron stood slowly and dropped his pleasant tone. “I know you married my mother for her fortune, you married Loretta to legitimize Tiberius. Only Junior’s mother really held your heart. What happened to her?” Lammont clutched the sheets, white knuckled. His features hardened. “I’ll take your silence as confirmation,” Cameron said. “I considered liberating her after you passed, but if she wasn’t truly mad when you committed her to an asylum, she is by now.” Cameron turned and strolled across the room to his father’s liquor cabinet and poured himself a drink. Movement caught his eye and he turned to look into the mirror and beheld his mother’s ghost in his own reflection. His smooth white skinned face encompassed by blood red hair all atop a rail thin frame gave him the appearance of an unfinished porcelain mannequin; handsome yet soulless. She’d looked every bit like paintings of Queen Elizabeth, regal, with an inner strength within a fragile body. No images of her adorned the Dummond household, not since a week after her funeral, two decades ago. The crystal tumbler’s pattern pressing into his aching fingers forced him to relax his angry stranglehold. His father’s contribution resided in cold cobalt eyes staring back from within the mirror, lit with a glint of his father’s ruthless ambition. Another of his father’s influences caught his eye in the immaculately tailored, perfectly pressed suit matching his eyes. A lesson in success; make an imposing first impression. “The doctor mentioned angels gathering, referring of course to your impending demise. I warned him; surely he knows you’re a freethinker, an adamant and outspoken one at that. But it made me wonder anew; why did you send me to seminary?”

Lammont pulled himself up and coughed into his handkerchief violently. “What does this have to do with…” “Why?!” Cameron shrieked. He took a deep breath as he faced his father. Control yourself, Cameron, otherwise others will control you. With a long steady exhale he took the time to rein in his outrage. “Why would an atheist send one of his sons to become a priest?” “You grew up isolated from the world, we feared for your health for so long,” Lammont began with a piteous scowl. “Faith is for the weak. There was a time when I thought you’d need such a crutch to survive.” “And perhaps I quit for the same reason you sent me,” Cameron replied as he straightened his shoulders. “I am not as weak as you thought; I’ve more pride and strength than to prey upon the pity of others.” Lammont nodded. “So you have. Junior had better watch out for you and your company. You’ll offer him stiff competition in the transport business.” “Junior needn’t worry, before long no one will even remember Lammont Dummond, or his dimwitted heir.” Cameron strutted back to his father’s side. He stared into his drink, fascinated by the play of lantern light on the multifaceted crystal surfaces while he waited for his words to sink in. “Perhaps I’ll lock him away in the same asylum; give him a chance to catch up with his mother,” he added with a wink. Cameron watched his father fighting to stay alive, wrestling with his son’s cryptic quip. Now, tell him, while you’ve got him off balance. “Your secrets, father, shall set me free. I know about your clandestine dealings with Julian Turleau and the formulas he traded for your services in manufacturing the Zenith.” “And what more will you do with these secrets that I haven’t already done?” his father strained to ask as he regained his breath. “Dummond Enterprises already stands at its peak, atop the accomplishments derived from those fantastic formulas.” Cameron shook his head, simultaneously disgusted and amazed a man of such power, a man he feared and hated growing up, a titan of industry needed so much help to see his plot

unfold. “Strictly on a balance sheet, the deal Julian struck made no sense; he traded dollars for pennies. So I asked myself, what did he stand to gain from his voyage?” Lammont’s eyelids drooped and fluttered momentarily. He shook off the encroaching slumber. Cameron grinned again. It’s time. “The doctor was right about your declining health and dire prognosis; I should hope so… I paid him to guarantee you a timely and swift death before any of what I’m telling you can reach another person.” As horror overshadowed his father’s features, warmth built from deep within Cameron and every inch of his skin tingled. This is it, my first great success, revenge. Oh if only I could savor this, or take a picture of his fragile frightened face. Cameron’s inner tutor scolded him. Keep it moving Cameron, there’s no sense wasting time. “My men stand poised to claim the remains of your secret pact with Turleau, Junior’s already surrendered more of your precious company to me than he realizes, and I just wanted to see the look on your face when your only chance for immortality, your legacy, crumbles as you pass. I wanted you to know that this unfit son you cast aside will eclipse your greatness and bury your heir.”

PART ONE Chapter One Salvaging a Secret

From the diary of Cameron Dummond March 14, 1881 It only stands to reason, a man who pockets no profit from his amazing discoveries must stand on the brink of something greater. To this end, armed with my father’s secret contract, lawyers, and a few former Pinkertons, I travel to the French countryside in search of my own greatness. Cameron gazed through field glasses into the valley below. The magnificent giant cannon rising up the opposite valley wall set his heart pounding. The fruits of father’s clandestine collaboration stand ready to serve their new master. A single thunderous blast from the titanic weapon only minutes ago had made finding the site possible. Rumors amongst Luneville residents of armed men and recent gunfire ran off the only local scout Cameron found willing to venture closer to the enigmatic valley. Without taking his eyes off the marvel, he ordered his men. “Flannery, Baker, get down there and secure my prize. We’ll need an all-clear signal before we’ll come down with the papers.” Flannery checked his holstered pistol before coaxing his horse down the thickly forested slope. Baker spurred after him. Through the lenses Cameron followed his men as they circumnavigated the small industrial village. Minutes passed until Flannery waved his handkerchief. Other movement caught Cameron’s eye. From the gargantuan weapon, a dozen men fled. He watched, awestruck, as the hillside flickered with a dozen tiny flashes before the cannon’s barrel and each ring of steaming pipes exploded. “That selfish old man,” Cameron cursed. Over his shoulder, he snapped at the rest of his entourage. “Let’s hurry down there and find what we can before anything else goes up in flames.” A narrow-chested, bespectacled man retreated from the crowd, steering his horse away.

“You secured my services as a lawyer Mr. Dummond, not as a field hand.” To his other men Cameron glared before they descended into the chaos. He turned his own horse to follow his lawyer away from the valley floor now behind them. With a broad grin and a polite nod, he spoke softly. “Correct on all counts, but wise on none. Turn your back on me and the world turns its back on you.” The lawyer scoffed. “You overestimate yourself.” Cameron stood in his stirrups and drew in a deep breath through flared nostrils. “Test me in this. See if my global corporation cannot close every door ever opened to you before.” He cast his gaze back down at his dwindling treasure, a motley conflagration. “Deny me my fortune and digging through the refuse of others will become a daily necessity.” An hour later, Flannery summoned Cameron with an excited shout. Atop a small hill at the valley’s edge, Flannery stood on the porch of house out of place in the claptrap industrial village. Though built of unfinished wood, its big shuttered windows, small chimneys, and rocking chair appointed porch spoke of comparative opulence. This house Julian must’ve inhabited. Once inside he toured the first floor, surprised to see evidence of a violent struggle. Bloodstains, bullet holes, and powder burns adorned the dining room and kitchen. As Cameron ascended the stairs a curious noise caught his attention; hums, whistles and a scratching sound. He followed his ears to the end of the hall and found Flannery hovering over a strange desk brimming with gauges, dials, and wires. The desk sat immediately inside the room’s doorway while beyond it bizarre boxes of metal and wood all connected by wires, occupied the remainder. Cameron detected an ozone odor as he drew near enough to hear two tinny voices conversing back and forth. “Osashar, we’ve made it into orbit. After I pop down to the engine room, we will begin our journey to the Moon.” “Excellent Julian, I look forward to seeing you afterward.” Cameron met Flannery’s bewildered gaze, clasped the man by the shoulders and spoke in a low controlled voice. “This house is off limits to all but you and me now.” He pulled a note pad and pencil from inside his jacket and sat in a worn leather office chair pulled up beside a shining

black disk the voices reverberated from. “I’ll need this packed carefully, but not until I’m ready.”

Chapter Two Where’s Paris?

Hap opened his eyes begrudgingly. The air, stale and dry, burned his throat. With muscles unfamiliar with work for forty days, he unbuckled the harness. Craning his neck, he scanned the Zenith’s parlor for anyone else. Empty. A dozen feet below metal grated against metal and Hap’s ears popped. I’m always the last one to wake up. Carefully he descended; eager to set foot on the Earth once more. An aroma, a memory, something familiar yet strange greeted his senses as he crept toward the tiny antechamber. Noises collided inside the metal ship, shouts and rhythmic roar. The sea. From the edge of the outer hatch Hap panned the horizon. Deep blue churned lazily under a lavender dusk sky. Shouts from below drew his attention from the serene back to the surreal. The Zenith sat atop a wide metal disk, which appeared to hover a dozen feet above the sea’s surface. Julian moaned in a crumpled heap while Regina knelt beside him. Hap descended the ladder to join his friends. Julian cried, eyes wild with panic. “Where are we? A band and a score of reporters should be swarming us by now. Paris should be within view. What now? What manner of misadventure must I endure now?” Regina smoothed the gentleman’s tousled iron grey hair. Looking up to Hap, she wondered, “Where are we? Surely we are home, on Earth.” “Last time we landed, last time we thought we were on Earth,” Hap answered. “We’d been asleep for forty days and found ourselves in a Martian desert.” Hap watched Regina as she searched the emerging stars. Does she miss her husband? They both had seemed ready to move on; that is until Henry turned up not dead. Hap labored to move leaden limbs. Trudging closer, Hap murmured. “After forty days of sleeping our way home I never thought I’d be so exhausted.” Without taking her eyes from the indigo sky, she replied. “The after effects of the anesthetic should wear off over night.” Her ethereal voice trailed off into the thrum and hiss of

the waves beneath. Her beauty, though tainted with the patina of pain, still stayed his heart a beat. Her brave strength diminished, the ferocious flicker in her soft brown eyes lacked the intensity of her earlier self. What will revive Regina? What can I do? Hap gently placed a hand on her shoulder. Regina whirled about, casting his hand aside, fury and anguish smoldered in her gaze. “He left me. Until death do us part; my vows hang in the air.” With a quivering finger, she pierced the sky, pointing to a twinkling ember. “I am abandoned for my adultery. But am I beholden to the man who sulks on that distant point of light? Shall I honor vows already broken?” Angry eyes drowned in tears. “Or do I abandon the man who abandoned me? Am I free to love you? Can I love you when all I see is Henry lurking in the corner of my heart?” Hap looked to the red planet, suddenly aghast at the memories so small a light evoked. “Where’s Osashar?” Julian shouted. Summoned like a séance beckoned ghost, Osashar’s voice boomed. “Welcome home.” A hidden hatch opened in the hard shining floor. From it Osashar emerged, his body, enveloped in a metal skeleton, glowed golden. His brown and tan scales glistened with the strange light. He offered a smile full of flashing white fangs. “My plan never included your returning home. I am prepared to release you to your former lives, provided first I obtain a solemn promise to keep my secret, taken to the grave if need be.”

Aether Legion by Winfield H. Strock III  

Sequel to Adventures Above the Aether Free Chapter Reading from