Moth Girl vs. The Bats, Part the Second
This is the second part (of five) of a new short(ish) story inspired by a conversation with @theagilmore and @ratporchrico on Twitter, and referencing Thea’s haunting songs. You can read Part the First, “Start As We Mean To Go On”, HERE.
This Is How You Find The Way
The following night Thea stood ready behind the cottage door, mantled in the heavy shining cloak, flying helmet and goggles snug on her head. She had a knife and a flintlock secure on her new belt, for who could predict what might shortly happen? Thea herself hadn’t the faintest idea what to expect.
Outside, the deadly bats were still about their evil business, whirring and keening and destroying all in their path. Their usual hour of disappearance was near, however, and Thea stood ready.
Ratporchrico fussed about her cloak, checking each individual bat wing’s newly fitted remote relay. One click of the big red button on the buckle of her belt should activate all of the cloak-wings at once. If that actually worked, if Ratporchio’s intricate little switching mechanisms all functioned as they should, then one of two things should happen. Either the wings would gently lift Thea from the ground and take her with the rest of the bats back to whence they came, or she would be flung forcefully upwards to smash her head against the cottage ceiling. She devoutly hoped for the former.
“Bend your knees,” the old man told her, and she complied, her boots creaking. He stretched and fiddled with the contraption attached to the back of her helmet. The “Automatic Blue” he called it, one of his many inventions. It was at heart a small boiler, perhaps two inches square. The tiny chimney attached would pump out a viscous blue vapour as she went, leaving a small yet visible trail that would linger for up to a day, so that she could find her way home again after… well, after what? Who knew what she’d find?
Ratporchrico patted her on the backside and she stood upright again. The Automatic Blue made a small pocketa-pocketa sound to show that it was working. The racket outside died down slightly. She let out a huge sigh. Nearly time.
“Ready, Moth Girl?” Ratporchrico asked.
“I’ve told you—”
“Yes.” She opened the door tentatively. The bats were milling about the square, circling aimlessly. They did not try to attack.
“Then it’s time,” Ratporchio told her, “Engage the bat wings, and just, you know, do your best.”
“I will not disappoint you.”
“I know. That would be impossible.”
Thea smiled at him.
“Oh wait,” he said.
“What?” she frowned. “Snag?”
“Did you have a wee? Best to go now. Who knows when you’ll next get a chance?”
“Yes, yes, I’ve been, you disgusting wazzock.”
“Then go, Moth Girl, and stay away from any naked flames.”
Smirking, Thea pushed the red button.
What the f…
The cloak lifted around her and her feet left the floor. It was only bloody working! Wait, the doorway – how the hell was she going to get out of the doorway? She should have stepped outside before activating the wings. She waggled her feet frantically, which achieved absolutely nothing.
Ratporchrico sighed, and gave her a push in the small of the back. Thea floated serenely outside, then slowed to a steady hover, bobbing up and down slightly in the pre-dawn light. A splash of blood on the snow beneath her feet marked where a bat had torn her flesh the night before.
The Automatic Blue provided a small amount of thrust and in a spirit of experiment she leaned forwards a little. She began to move ahead, slowly, but steadily.
She was just experimenting with steering by lifting her arms to angle the cloak when she suddenly shot forwards, head first, legs trailing behind her. The breath was sucked from her lungs by the sudden speed. The bats were on the move, and they were taking her with them.
She sped upwards, and due south. Around her, the mechanical bats flickered their wings. Her grimace slowly relaxed as she realised that the plan, impossible as it had seemed, was actually working. She was following the bats back to wherever they originated, back to their cave.
Oh God, she was following the bats to their cave. They hadn’t entirely thought this through, had they? For a start, how was she going to stop? She briefly considered hitting the red button again, until she noticed how high they had risen. The city below was tiny already. It turned beneath her feet as the bats curved to the right, eventually settling on a westward course.
Perhaps she could direct her own course a little. She angled her right arm up, clutching the hem of the cloak in her fist. She veered to the left. She lowered her arm and brought her direction back to that of her bat companions.
Success! In your face, Ratporchrico! The old fellow had been adamant that she would not be able to influence her direction of travel at all. He had thought the pull of the wings on her cloak would be too strong for her to divert. He had thought wrong.
She tilted herself to the right, beginning to enjoy herself. Her cloak brushed aside a few of the nearer bats, who simply ignored her and resumed their original flight plan.
Thea became more ambitious, she swooped and soared, turned and twisted, her breath vapour-trailing behind her to mingle with her faint blue lifeline. She laughed aloud at the unexpected joy of flight. She shouted with excitement. She imagined herself an angel, an avenging angel swooping to the rescue of her beleaguered city. The stars wheeled about her almost as if she controlled their arc through the heavens, and a song grew in her exhilarated mind.
There are angels in the intervals and angels in the stars
There are angels in the radio waves
She devoutly hoped that she would be able to experience this glorious feeling again, once her mission was over. Her thoughts were reluctantly dragged back to the mission. The ability to direct her flight, in addition to being a breath-taking experience, significantly improved her chances of dealing with whatever she found.
Now, when they reached their destination, she might be able to direct herself to a safe place. A shadowy hidden corner of the cave, perhaps.
She glanced around. Her tiny companions flew mindlessly on, rising still higher. The freezing air was getting thin, and Thea was grateful for the woollen gloves she wore beneath her gauntlets, and the extra set of underwear that Ratporchrico had insisted she wore.. The bat cave must be on the pinnacle of a high mountain, or perhaps even—
Wait, what was that ahead? Thea didn’t dare release her grip on the cloak in order to clear her goggles, but through the misty glass it looked like an overly bright star. It was not Harpo’s Ghost, that bright guide-star beloved of mariners and trans-desert caravans. There was Harpo’s Ghost, over to the right, close by the fading face of the moon. And the dot of light ahead was growing bigger. Stars don’t grow.
This object did grow. Or rather, she realised, it appeared to be increasing in size because it was getting nearer. Obviously, Thea reflected, clockwork bats do not roost in caves. Clockwork bats roost in… whatever the thing was that they were approaching.
It began to take on form as they closed the distance. It appeared to be vaguely wedge-shaped, with a protuberance at the point of the wedge. The sides appeared to be moving, rhythmically pulsing. As it came closer, Thea began to make out more details.
It was a mechanical behemoth, and now it filled her vision against the lightening arc of the sky. Huge pistons, driven by steam if the exhaust jets were anything to go by, pushed vast wheels around. These in turn acted via cogs and pulleys on great articulated sheets of metal that rose and fell in the roseate tint of the beginning dawn. At the rear of the flying machine, for such it was, a metal chimney of ornate design disgorged dark smoke. At the front, two large triangular satellite receptor dishes emerged like ears from a spherical cockpit, and below them a pair of large ocular windows allowed Thea to see figures moving about inside. This was plainly a craft of some sort. The whole contraption was a titanic mechanised creature of the skies. It was…
It was a colossal steam-driven bat.
Thea and her cloud of attendants were approaching the massive head. She hoped that the bats surrounding her, mere toys compared to the giant ahead but legion in number, would be enough to mask her approach from any sentinel that might peer out of the windowed eyes.
Behind her, the sun finally broke the curve of the horizon and threw blazing light on the craft ahead, which shone and dazzled like a fiery inferno.
Stay away from any naked flames, Moth Girl.
It was too late now for her to heed Ratporchrico’s advice. She was headed straight for the bright flame of the mighty head.
She shook herself out of her fascinated torpor. It would be better if she could angle around to the side, maybe find a way to creep secretly into the body of the beast through the struts and cogs that worked the beating wings. She angled her cloak accordingly, but was rewarded with only the slightest of movements.
Damn. It had worked before. She tried leaning the other way, but was unable to affect her course significantly in either direction. Either the aerodynamics of the cloak were less effective in the gruel-thin air at this height, or the power of attraction between the mother ship and her minions was far stronger at this small distance.
Thea tried loosing her grip on the cloak entirely, leaving her hands free. It made no difference. The cloak, attached securely around her shoulders, continued to support and direct her. Wherever the bat cloud was going, she was going too. She briefly considered hitting the power button on her belt, but a glance to the shadowed earth, far far below, convinced her that stopping the wings would only lead to long cold fall and a certain death.
Perhaps the rising sun would dazzle any watchers ahead, and allow her to slip in unnoticed. It was difficult to make out much through the dazzling reflections, but she could not see anyone gazing out of the windows at her; just dim, blurry figures moving about. Another movement of darkness drew her gaze down.
Below the eyes, a dark crack appeared in the bright metal face. It widened slowly. The maw of the beast was opening, hungry and black. Thea, enveloped in her glittering swarm of attendants, was flying directly into the mysterious blackness and into the belly of the beast.