Part 40: Home Sweet Home
And just as suddenly as we had found ourselves in Unity City, we were standing in Circhester. The transparent Sky Spider automaton removed its large, inhuman hands from our shoulders and faded away completely.
Una twisted her mouth thoughtfully. “And I remember being perturbed by my first ride on a dirigible.”
I looked around. We were standing on a cobbled road that twisted between an overgrown vineyard and several rows of dilapidated, empty-windowed cottages. The sea whispered at the edge of hearing, interrupted briefly by the distant rumble of artillery.
“Do you know where we are?” I asked Una.
She took my arm. “Of course. This is my back garden.”
She smiled and led me down the road. “You weren't under the impression my family estate was just a mansion and one stone wall, were you?”
“I honestly didn't think about it that much.”
As we moved past the tangled vines and tattered rooftops, the viscount's estate - Una's now - came into view, quite some distance away. The guards manning the machine gun nest that overlooked the gates seemed quite confused when they finally noticed us.
We were met in the courtyard by that weathered old soldier with the eye-patch that seemed to be in charge of the estate's security.
“It's a pleasant surprise to see you, milady,” he said. “Things weren't the same without you or your uncle around. I'm afraid I had to let a few of the staff go when they tried to take advantage.”
Una seemed pleased. “I can always trust you to keep things from going to pot, sergeant-major.”
He looked at me with his one tired but kindly eye. “Shall I have them prepare a room for the doctor?”
Una squeezed my arm. “Quite unnecessary. The doctor and I will be living in sin.”
“Very good, milady,” he said with a nod, and turned to leave us.
“Has anyone ever told you,” I asked Una, “that you're very direct?”
She ignored my question completely and led me through the doors of her ancestral home. “The last time we were here, someone tried to kill us with the most advanced military automata human civilisation has ever produced.”
“More advanced,” I said, “than either of us thought it actually had produced.”
“And possibly with hired killers of the human variety as well, or machines with some level of ability at posing as human.”
“The Academy for Machine Intelligence seems like the obvious candidate,” I suggested. “But then, I passed through Smogton. I don't think any of the old institutions from there are likely to be left.”
Una stopped at the foot of the mansion's impressive staircase. “I think Remus was telling the truth when he said that the problems of Fortress City have their root in Fortress City. And as anyone will tell you, everything in Fortress City revolves around one person.”
I thought of the man with the golden mask. “John Kirkham.”
“I'm sure he'll want to speak to us anyway,” Una said. She looked down at the stairs and sighed. “If Kirkham's civilisation was everything it was cracked up to be, I'd have been able to install an elevator by now.”
“We should probably pay him a visit before the killing machines get to us.”
Una started to climb the stairs, pulling on my arm. “Of course. But let's get changed and take a moment to settle in first. There'll be plenty of time for being killed later.”
TO BE CONTINUED...
Next week: John Kirkham: man of mystery and power! Is he friend or foe? Check back in a week's time for the next instalment of Into the Mind of the Sky Spiders!