I flew in from the south-east, down the lush valley between the Liverpool Free Trade Area and the ruins contained by the, in parts still radioactive, Greater Manchester wastelands. I had originally intended to circle out over the Irish Sea and come in low over the water, but there had been some recent reports that the Welsh Separatists had managed to get hold of some ex-defense force artillery and were taking pot-shots at anything flying low enough not to leave a contrail. I felt that keeping the crate in one piece made more sense than having a control surface obliterated by a misguided 'Son of Glyndwr' and spiraling into the briny deep with my aft section aflame.
Whilst I'm on the subject, I'm glad that I'm less than fifteen miles from the Aeroport, as I've a nasty feeling that last night's dinner is about to make an explosive re-appearance. Fox Cheek Vindaloo has a wonderful effect on that palate, but loses something during its trip through one's lower intestine. I decided to contact local traffic control to see if I could secure a berth near the Gentlemens' Conveniences.
'George Joseph Smith International Aeroport, this is the private flyer Gustavo, requesting clearance to land.'
'Roger Gustavo,' Replies the obviously electronic voice of the traffic control construct, 'please continue on your current heading and land in section Red Seventeen.'
'Acknowledged Control, are there comfort facilities near that particular area? There is a possibility of an impending gastric emergency.'
'Gustavo, do you wish to report a medical emergency?'
'Negative Control, just a minor digestive discomfort... Gustavo Out.'
I lock the navigational system onto the docking beam and proceed to land in the indicated bay. Even as the landing legs were rebounding, I leap out of the cockpit and open the starboard stowage locker. I pick out a rather fetching stovepipe hat with matching gecko-skin gloves, and make my way into the terminal building. Once my urgent business has been taken care of and my composure has been restored, I show my documentation to the security team, and ask to be directed to the Hackney Rank.
The three mile ride into town is fairly uneventful, I am continually unnerved by the robotic horse that pulls my carriage giving me a potted history of the resort - It is not so much that it is, for all intents and purposes a talking silver horse, mainly it is that the damnable thing is looking at me over its shoulder all the time, rather than keeping its glowing blue eyes on the road.
We pass the first of the town's three piers, the silent hulks of the anti-Spider defense cannons still positioned down it's length. skeins of bright bunting are stretched between them in a jarring juxtaposition.
'Why the decoration?' I ask the horse.
'If you had only come last week Sir, it was the twentieth anniversary of the last Spider attack, a suicide squadron had targeted the Tower and the men of the town shot down every single one. At low tides you can still see some of the wreckage if you know where to look.'
Ah, the famous Tower, it had been the main landmark of the town for several hundred years, it had seen service as a circus, a ballroom, a radar station and had finally ended up being used as an airship mooring mast. I crane my neck to look up as I pass it and see that a passenger liner was currently docked, its silver skin glinting brightly in the setting sun.
Moments later the Hackney pulled up at the Metropole Hotel, I disembark, pat the equine construct absently on the head and find my way to the reception desk.
'Reservation in the name of Anderson?' I announce, somewhat questioningly to the young girl behind the desk.
'Yes sir, do you have any luggage?'
Gods damn it! In my rush to leave the aeroport, I had forgotten to pick up my cases. I am however unwilling to announce this to the general public, so I answer with braggadocio, 'No, not currently. I would consider it a great kindness if you would ask your concierge to contact the finest local Gentleman's Costumiers and ask them to supply a brown leather dinner jacket and a selection of day-wear suitable for tomorrow's prevailing weather conditions.'
She injects my hand with the digital keys to my suite and I enter the lift. In some strange quirk of fate, or more likely via some over-zealous research by a bored hotel employee, the music being played over the under-sized speakers is one of my great, great-grandfather's most popular tunes. He was a local man himself and had enjoyed some small fame with a progressive musical group named after an eighteenth century agriculturalist.
The lift deposits me directly across the corridor from my room, I exit, cross the deep pile carpet and clench my hand against the sculpted mahogany of the door handle. There is a brief sensation of heat as the key is read and the door clicks open.
I enter the room, the only source of illumination is from a shaft of sunlight streaming through the apparently amateurishly drawn curtains, picking out an ornately detailed silver bottle on the side table. I pick it up and read the words 'Henri IV Dudognon Heritage' engraved around a golden badge on the side.
The sudden voice surprised me to the point where I almost dropped the bottle.
'Those are real diamonds, set in platinum.'
I turn, still cradling the bottle in my suddenly sweating palms.
'Who?' I ask. The man stands, he is dressed in a vaguely military style, his impeccably pressed jacket so clean that it almost glows in the half-light. He smiles, apologetically.
'Ah yes, how remiss of me, my name is Horner, I contacted you via The Great Cloud? You told me your story about the loss of the airship Simon Bolivar.'
'Of course, Mr Horner, I should have known.' I reply graciously, 'Thank you for the invitation I must say that I wasn't expecting this kind of payment.' I lift the bottle, the sun reflects from the thousands of brilliantly cut diamonds and momentarily the room is festooned with a plethora of small, dancing points of light.
He laughs emptily, 'Payment? Goodness me no, your story was interesting, and will definitely be published, but it wasn't worthy of that particular vintage. No, that was merely a distraction.'
'Dis...?' I don't even feel the blade as it completely severs my neck, I only know that a sword is even involved because I can now see it in his left hand, pointing at the floor in the sabre rest position, it has blood dripping from it, my blood.
'I'm sorry old chap, but I can't risk you telling your story to anyone else, we value exclusivity at the G.A.A. you see.'
He takes a step forward, places his index finger on the bridge of my nose and applies the tiniest amount of pressure. My head separates from my shoulders with a quiet sucking sound and I have the briefest view of my own back before the floor and oblivion hit me simultaneously.
Horner removes a small notebook from his inside pocket, and crosses off the name 'Anderson'. He then takes out a personal communicator and connects to The Great Cloud. He dials in a number and when the party accepts the call he coughs politely.
'Mr Josiah, Yes? It's Horner of the G.A.A. I've received your story... I must say, it's rather good. I'd like to arrange payment.'