This week’s stunning guest art is by Joseph Kelly of Pepperpot Piper. If you’re not already reading Pepperpot, you really should, because even though it has a two-week update schedule (for obvious reasons of painting time) every page is a visual feast. And the story’s a lot more than one might initially expect. Pep’s sort of an adorable female Damon Runyon, with an easy familiarity amongst every colorful hood and newsie in the city; and the story has a pulp fiction feel as well, with supernatural wizards and period robots and armored vehicles. Opening a new Pepperpot page is like opening a present every two weeks, I swear.

When Joe agreed to do guest art for us, I sort of assumed he’d just put Marissa in a Jazz Age outfit and I would have been totally fine with that. But when this dynamic knockout popped up on my screen, I almost spilled coffee all over my keyboard. I was immediately compelled to sit down and write a bit of pulp serial prose to go with it. It’s semi-related to our storyline, but it’s not canon — consider it, like the imagery, just a bit of what-if whimsy. You’ll find it below!


 

Bobservations

 

 SecondEarthSpitfireTitle

_______________________

 

THERE WAS A BLUE FLASH, a whiff of ozone, and then darkness as Marissa thudded to a sloping floor, tumbled over what felt like wooden crates, and ended up sprawled against metal supports and wood slats.

The air was hot and smelled of mildewed canvas, damp wood, smoke, and foliage.

Despite her discomfort, Marissa almost cheered. She knew it! Emil was such a typical scientist. So obsessed with making a teleporter that he didn’t even realize he’d created a dimensional portal in the process. Sure, he had an impressive mind (not to mention a surprisingly tight tush for a scientist) but while he’d been delving into the arcane magic of fourth-dimensional quantum entanglement algorithms, it had taken her engineering brain to spot what he’d overlooked. Yes, the Strike Gate couldn’t transmit metal, or electronics, or human souls.

But if all you did was open this end of the wormhole, without a fixed destination for transmission – you could drop anything through. You could even get it back. It just didn’t, technically, go anywhere. It simply ended up in the same location – but in some alternate, Second Earth plane of existence. Impractical and dangerous, Emil would have called it, and he’d have been right.

But “impractical and dangerous” had been Melissa’s guiding principles for most of her life, and she wasn’t about to stop now. Managing to get the lab to herself, she’d put the Strike Gate into portal mode and dropped a wrench through, then yanked it back. The wrench had reappeared; possibly slightly battered, but at least not overly warm or frozen. There was no point in sending a sampling jar – whatever it captured wouldn’t be brought back anyway.

She’d scratched Eekto’s ectoplasmic ears thoughtfully. A scientist would send a rat. But Marissa’s softer heart wouldn’t condone animal testing, even if Eekto had still been a physical rat for the purpose.

No, if there were going to be a test subject, it would have to be her. She could hold her breath for thirty seconds if need be. And since the rest of the Strike Crew had been due back at any moment, if t’were done, t’were well done quickly. She’d set the machine’s automated timer at thirty seconds for backport and climbed inside the Gate, taking a deep breath.

Activation.

Then came the strange falling sensation, the flash of ignited hydrogen, and here she was in a heap – where?

Thirty seconds. Only thirty seconds. At least she could breathe, and it appeared she still had her soul attached. She scrambled upright on the sloping wooden slats, eyes getting used to the dimness. The back of… a truck? And light streaming through… bullet holes in canvas? Marissa pulled a flap aside and stared out at a jungle. A rutted dirt road, alongside a some ancient ruins carved with rather creepy native iconographs. She was in what appeared to be a vintage truck, which had crashed in a ditch. Pooled gasoline was still burning.

Thirty seconds. It had to be well past thirty seconds by now. Marissa fumbled in her lab coat and drew out her cellphone. No signal, no surprise, but the reference timer app she’d set was still operating. And it read 00:00.

Something was wrong.

Struck by a horrible thought, she clambered over the scattered crates and metal cylinders toward the front of the truck. A narrow but open window looked into the interior, where she spotted an antique-style pistol and a box of ammunition scattered over the seat.

The windshield was smashed. And the hole was distinctly wrench-shaped. Oh wibbly-wobbly gods of time and space – this accident was her fault! From what she could see the wrench had missed the driver, whoever it was, but the they’d been startled enough to go straight into the ditch beside the ruins.

Where was everyone now? And why bullet holes? Had they been fleeing pursuit?

One thing was certain; she couldn’t go do much jungle work in dress heels and a lab coat. But two of the crates had broken open, exposing what looked like WWII British Army clothing.

Working swiftly, Marissa located some suitable jungle attire in her size and donned it within the sloping confines of the crashed truck. She also took the pistol (a Model 1896 broomhandle Mauser with stripper clips, her LARPing brain supplied) along with the holster and a fistful of ammo.

She’d been a terror on the paintball fields and had won medals in competition air pistol, but this was her first experience with a Mauser. Oddly enough, it – and the clothing she was wearing – looked brand new. Fortunately, her engineer’s brain quickly figured out the mechanism. She started to insert a clip, then a chirp from her pocket startled her. She checked the phone again.

00:01 read the timer.

Marissa’s brain churned. Fortunately, her brilliant mind tended to have a precise recollection of events. Arrival. Scrambling around inside truck. Changing clothes. Six minutes, more or less. And one second had passed on the timer.

Obviously, this alternate reality was not in synch, timewise, with her own. Which meant thirty seconds on the timer back home gave her – the math didn’t even slow her for an instant – about three hours here, more or less.

Then she heard the screams.

Thankful for her Parkour training, Marissa leaped from the truck with the heavy steel Mauser still in hand. In the distance, she saw three British Army nurses being dragged roughly along by men in uniform, toward a halftrack idling behind the trees.

Marissa gasped. The men were laughing. One had a red armband.

And that armband sported an all-too-familiar symbol. A white circle with a black swastika.

Even as a chill went up her spine, Marissa’s jaw clenched in determination. Flame licked from the crash behind her and illuminated the horrific native carvings, but that was nothing compared to the atrocities that would soon be happening in the near distance if she didn’t do something.

She wished Max, the lab’s resident Special Ops soldier, were here, but he’d once advised her that a soldier’s primary task was to do what was necessary with what was available. And right now, all that was available… was her.

Clambering from the ditch, the beautiful and brilliant engineer prepared to ram home the Mauser’s clip.

She was Marissa Venganza Catalina.

She had three hours.

It was time to go to work.

 

 

_______________________

— Bob out 

UPDATE! By popular demand, SECOND EARTH SPITFIRE was fleshed out into a complete 20-page pulp-serial-style short story and is now available on Amazon for Kindle. Marissa battles Nazis and Spider Gods! What more do you need?

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B010YEH144