A Red Sun Also Rises, p.1Mark Hodder
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Published 2012 by Pyr®, an imprint of Prometheus Books
A Red Sun Also Rises. Copyright © 2012 by Mark Hodder. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Cover illustration © Lee Moyer • Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hodder, Mark, 1962–
A red sun also rises / by Mark Hodder.
ISBN 978–1–61614–694–8 (pbk.) • ISBN 978–1–61614–695–5 (ebook)
1. Human-alien encounters—Fiction. 2. Vicars, Parochial—England—Fiction.
3. London (England)—19th century—Fiction. 4. Steampunk fiction. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
A RED SUN ALSO RISES
is dedicated to
Lynne Blackburn and Ian Bailey
A Word from the Author
Those of you familiar with my “Burton & Swinburne” tales might also be aware that I live in Valencia on the east coast of Spain. Among my friends, I count a few members of the yachting community, an international crowd that comes and goes on a seasonal basis. In July 2011, one of them—Raymond Villeneuve—gave me the journal that became the basis for A RED SUN ALSO RISES.
Villeneuve had just returned from a diving expedition to the west of the Azores, where he’d been part of a team exploring the wreck of The Hermes, a small steamer that sank in 1947. We met for a beer in one of Valencia’s seafront bars, and after we’d exchanged the usual pleasantries, he said, “In one of your novels, you make a passing reference to the island of Koluwai in the South Pacific. Why that particular place?”
“In remembrance of my Great Uncle James Leigh,” I replied. “He was a missionary back in the 1920s. He’s thought to have died there.”
I shrugged. “The records don’t say. I suppose that’s why he fascinates me. There’s a mystery surrounding him.”
My friend nodded thoughtfully, then abruptly changed the subject. “This ship I’ve been exploring—not much is known about it. The Hermes was privately owned by a Captain Franklin Powell and seems to have made regular runs between Gibraltar and the Caribbean. It went down a couple of years after the end of the Second World War. There were no traces of cargo aboard the vessel, but we found a watertight safe, which had kept its contents well preserved, though they didn’t amount to much.”
He placed a small package in front of me—something wrapped in waxed paper with an elastic band around it.
“There were documents, a small bag of coins, and this. Take a look.”
My curiosity piqued, I pulled off the band, opened the paper, and found a leather-bound notebook inside. Its delicate, browned, and slightly crumbling pages were filled with almost illegible handwriting.
“As you can see, it’s written in English,” Villeneuve said. “I’ve read a little of it, and it seems to be your sort of thing. I thought you might like to have it. It also mentions Koluwai, and a missionary who went there.”
He had little else to say regarding the book—the handwriting was so bad he’d given up reading it—so I thanked him, took it home, and over the next few days struggled to decipher it.
What you hold is adapted from that journal. Adapted, because the man who wrote it, Aiden Fleischer, possessed an exceedingly archaic and long-winded style, entirely unsuitable for a modern audience. My revisions involved editing and untangling the grammar, updating and standardising the spelling, and excising a lot of fairly dull material—extensive notes on flora and fauna, and so forth. I did, however, remain faithful to the author’s rather eccentric capitalisation of certain nouns.
I undertook a small amount of research with regard to the names and places mentioned in the account and can confirm that the parish records in the little town of Theaston Vale, in Hampshire, England, show that a man named Gregory James Mortimer Fleischer was the Anglican priest there from June 1868 to September 1883. He had a son, Aiden Mortimer Fleischer, born 22nd November 1863, who took his vows in 1882 and replaced his father as parish priest the following year, resigning the post in 1887.
Aiden Fleischer next shows up in the archives of the London Missionary Society, where he trained during 1888—the year of the infamous Ripper killings—before being posted to Papua New Guinea. He was twenty-five years old when he left Britain. I’ve discovered no further traces of him.
The once-famous Hufferton Hall, mentioned early on in the journal, is now gone and all but forgotten. The last of the Huffertons, Sir Rupert, was murdered there in 1923, after which a succession of occupants came and went before the manor fell into disuse. It stood empty throughout the 1950s, was inhabited by squatters in the 1960s, and fell victim to an arsonist in 1972. I’ve not been able to find any evidence of the Stark family who, according to Fleischer, once worked there.
1. Clarissa and Alice
I didn’t intend to drop the crystal there. Even in my own time, it was a busy shipping lane. Now aeroplanes cross the area as well. Two days ago, a United States Navy training flight, comprised of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers and fourteen men, entered the region and has been neither seen nor heard from since. I don’t doubt that Flight 19, as it was designated, has gone through the rupture.
I can go home at last. My hand will be restored to me.
The crystal, though, is beyond retrieval. I can only hope that Artellokas, if he still lives, will find a different solution—a way to close the portal before it swallows even more unwitting travellers.
And what of Clarissa? Oh, sweet Heaven, let her still be there.
Wait. My apologies. This is not the way to start. My emotions are spilling onto pages meant only for the cold facts of the matter. I shall begin again. I must complete this account before The Hermes reaches Bermuda. When we dock at Hamilton, I’ll entrust it to Captain Powell, who, upon his return to England, will post it to my old vicarage in Theaston Vale. Whoever occupies the position I once held might know what to do with it. I, meanwhile, will steer a motorboat southwestward to a point some two hundred miles north of the Bahamas, there to vanish from this world forever.
A confession: I’m not Peter Edwards. That name belongs to a young Australian soldier, born on the 18th of May 1920, who was shot through the head on the 23rd of July 1942, during the Battle of Port Moresby.
My real name is Aiden Mortimer Fleischer. I am British, but my rather too Germanic surname would have been viewed with suspicion during the war, which is why I appropriated Edwards’ identity. I’m not proud that I did so, but the poor lad had no further use for it and I was in desperate straits. He bore some small resemblance to me and his date of birth was useful, for while I appear to be in my mid-twenties, I was, in fact, born on the 22nd of November 1863. By that measure, I am an old man.
Indeed, my youth feels a long way off. It belongs to far gentler times. The world is not what it used to be.
So, to my history.
My father was an Anglican clergyman. He became my sole parent when puerperal fever took my mother within days of my birth. I was an only child, and as I grew up, I felt her absence keenly. Father, by contrast, survived her loss with his character intact, remaining a kind, content, stable, and outwardly happy man. His faith gave him comfort, and I envied him. I suppose it was inevitable, then, that I spent my early years as he’d spent his, following a meek and scholarly path into the priesthood. I was nineteen when I took my vows. Barely a man! That was in January of 1882. Just a few months later, dear old dad suffered a brain embolism and dropped dead. The Church appointed me as his successor and I took over his role as vicar in my home town, the aforementioned Theaston Vale, in Hampshire.
For the churchgoers, it should have been a smooth transition from one Reverend Fleischer to the next.
My predecessor had been a dynamic sermoniser. He was compassionate, engaging, funny, and popular. I was none of those things. I may have been doing the work of Our Lord, but it was immediately apparent that I wasn’t very good at it. Crippled by nerves, I stuttered through each Sunday service while my flock first snored, then strayed.
Nevertheless, I was well-meaning—or so I told myself—and every word of comfort I uttered from the pulpit and, occasionally, in the bedrooms of the sick and the dying, was spoken, if not with true feeling, then at least with due care and attention. I knew the Bible from front to back. I always had an appropriate line of scripture at the ready and I never misquoted.
I was erudite.
They told me I was pedantic.
I was dutiful.
They said I was remote.
I was attentive.
They called me a cold fish.
As my daily failures accrued, I began to realise the truth of Jonathan Swift’s dictum: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”
I admit it. Sometimes I grew close to hating my parishioners! I hated that the men avoided me and appeared to regard me as some other gender—not female but definitely not properly male—as though my education and intellectual demeanour had rendered me an incomprehensible hermaphrodite. I hated that the women regaled me with interminable and pointless gossip, which sounded to me spiteful and uncharitable, but which, to them, was obviously as vital as the oxygen they breathed.
Three years of this passed, and an ever-intensifying resentment seethed in the darker recesses of my mind, for I felt helpless to change, and I was constantly and crushingly lonely.
I despised being a priest.
But what else could I be?
The first of many alterations in my circumstances knocked at the vicarage door late one morning in August of 1885. It arrived in the form of the most disreputable-looking woman I’d ever seen. It pains me to describe her as she was then, but I must, for it was her deformities that initially bound us together.
She was, at most, five-foot-two, obviously a vagabond, hunchbacked, with crooked legs and swarthy sun-browned skin. Her jet-black hair—with streaks of white growing from the temples—was swept back from a deep widow’s peak and fell in waves to her twisted shoulder blades. The dress and jacket she wore might have been fashioned from old potato sacks. However, by far the most remarkable thing about her was that the upper part of her face was concealed behind tight-fitting black-lensed leather-bound goggles.
“Forgive my imposition,” she said, and her voice was sweet and mellifluous, surprising me with its cultivated tone. “I’ve fallen upon hard times, Reverend, and I am starving. If you have anything about the place that needs doing, perhaps you would be kind enough to allow me to work in return for a morsel? I can put my hand to any task you care to name, including labour you would normally assign to a man.”
Her grotesque appearance unnerved me, but I managed to stammer, “Quite, quite,” and blinked at my reflection in the shiny glass of her eyewear. “I have some shirts that require darning. Can you—um—but no, probably that wouldn’t—I’m sorry—”
She smiled and tapped the side of her goggles with a finger. “I’m not blind. I can do needlework. I suffer a condition of the eyes that allows me to see with perfect clarity in darkness but which causes me great pain in daylight or in the presence of gas lamps. I would be entirely incapacitated without these glasses.”
“Ah. Good!” I said, before hastily correcting myself. “Er, that you’re not blind, I mean! Is it—is it a congenital condition?”
“Quite so, Reverend. I was born with it.” She made a gesture that indicated her entire body. “As for the rest, a childhood accident is to blame—a chance occurrence, or perhaps it was the will of God, or maybe I was responsible for some misdeed in a past life and am now suffering a natural retribution. I suppose I must have done something very bad to have been thus punished!”
Startled by this statement, I replied, “You refer to the Buddhist belief in reincarnation, and in reaping what you sow over the course of multiple lifetimes?”
She nodded. “They call it karma. But I was merely being facetious. I don’t really believe in it—I’m a strictly practical sort. Supernatural and theological explanations for the world and our existence in it interest me only in so far as they might give hints of forgotten scientific knowledge. I mean no offence.”
“None taken! I’m not so dyed in the wool that I would deny a person the right to question the veracity or usefulness of the Christian faith—or any other creed, for that matter. I was simply taken aback that you know of Buddhist beliefs, that is all.”
“Because I appear a down-and-out, and you therefore presumed me ill-informed about such matters?”
I hesitated, feeling rather disoriented by the strange conversation that had come out of nowhere to interrupt my morning studies. “Forgive my forthrightness,” I said, “but yes, you do have the air of a beggar about you, and I’ve never heard a man or woman of that unfortunate class speak as you do.”
“Class! It is not a class, sir! It is misfortune and adverse circumstances that cause a person to fall to this state, not inherited qualities of character!”
I shifted from one foot to the other, a vicar made awkward and embarrassed by a vagrant, and stuttered, “Of c-course. Forgive me. It was a bad choice of—of—of words. I meant nothing by it. I appear to have jumped to conclusions about you on sight and now find that all of them are wrong. You are obviously not at all what I took you to be. May I—may I ask your name?”
“I am Clarissa Stark.”
“Would you care to come in, Miss Stark? I’m moved to hear your story, and I have a thick vegetable soup on the stove. It won’t take long to heat up. We’ll forego the needlework. The people of this town are used to seeing me in frayed shirts. They’d be confused if I presented them with otherwise.”
“Thank you, Reverend—?”
I ushered her through to my small kitchen and she sat at the table while I put a flame under the soup and set some water to boil. Later, if I could do so without sounding impolite, I’d offer her the opportunity to wash.
“Are you from the North, Miss Stark? I hear the vaguest trace of a Scottish burr in your voice.”
“Have you heard of Hufferton Hall?”
“The one near Edinburgh? Of course. It once housed a famous Museum of Mechanical Marvels.”
“I was born there.”
I turned and looked at her, my eyebrows raised. She smiled and shook her shaggy head. “No, no, I’m not one of the eccentric Huffertons. My mother was their cook, my father their groundsman.” She saw my expression and went on, “Ah! You’re surprised a child of servants is educated. The explanation is connected with the sorry state of my back and legs. When I was five years old, Lord Hufferton’s eldest son, Rupert, who was then in his thirteenth year, took his father’s autocarriage without permission and—”
“Autocarriage? What’s that?” I inter
“A conveyance that moves without need of a horse.”
I considered her reply while I ladled soup into bowls, set one before her, and put bread and a glass of water beside it.
“You mean like Étienne Lenoir’s Hippomobile?”
I remember that Miss Stark directed her face at me, and her eye lenses reflected the light from the kitchen window. I can still see every detail of that scene, as if it was preserved in amber. I don’t know why I recall it with such clarity. Maybe because it was the first moment she considered me with obvious respect.
“I’m astounded!” she exclaimed. “You’ve heard of Étienne Lenoir?”
I sat down opposite her and broke my bread. “I’m a reader, Miss Stark, and not merely in theology. I’m interested in where the human race is going, both spiritually and materially. I keep up with the latest inventions.”
She took a spoonful of soup, and it suddenly became apparent just how hungry she was, for our conversation was temporarily halted as she applied herself to the meal with an enthusiasm that was sad to witness.
I had led a very sheltered life in Theaston Vale. The only cities I’d ever visited were Southampton and Winchester. I’d yet to experience the teeming masses of London’s poor and had never seen starvation before. It shocked and humbled me.
Silently, I served the young woman a second bowl, cut her another chunk of bread, then crossed to a cupboard and took from it a bottle of red wine. After pouring her a generous glass, I finished my own meal before transferring the now boiled water from the stovetop to a tin bathtub in the scullery. I refilled the pan and set it back on the flame, then, without a word, left the kitchen and went to the church storeroom. There were bundles of clothes in it, all clean, all contributed by the charitable. I took up as many as I could carry and transported them back to the scullery.
“That was delicious,” Miss Stark said as I rejoined her. “Thank you very much. It’s been longer than I care to remember since my appetite was properly assuaged.”
A Red Sun Also Rises by Mark Hodder / Fantasy / Science Fiction / Horror / Actions & Adventure / Romance & Love have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes