from the mind of Bobby Nash
Lance Star and the Crown of Gengis Kai
A serialized novella by Bobby Nash
There aren’t many men that Lance Star would drop everything and fly halfway around the world for, but a cryptic letter from his old friend asking to meet was enough to pique the air ace’s interest.
An hour later, Lance, accompanied by his trusty chief of staff, Buck Tellonger, was airborne in one of their unmarked cargo planes.
“Any particular reason we’re not taking the ol’ Skybolt this time around?” Buck asked, referring to Lance Star’s most famous creation and the plane everyone associated with the air ac and his crew.
“We have to keep this one under the radar,” Lance said. As usual, he was doing the flying while Buck kicked back and enjoyed the ride. Normally, he would have served as navigator, but his friend hadn’t told him where they were going yet.
“Ah, one of them deals,” Buck said around a toothy grin just before popping one of those big, cheap, smelly cigars he loved so much into his mouth. “A favor for the general again?” General Walter Pettigrew, in addition to being a longtime friend of the Star family, was also the liaison between the United States Air Corp and the Sky Rangers. On occasion, the general called on the Sky Rangers for a mission or twelve.
“Not this time, Buck.”
Buck leaned back in his seat and puffed on his charoot.
“Do you remember me mentioning Simon Prentiss?”
Buck rubbed his chin as he tried to recall the name. “It does ring a bell, but I can’t place him. He’s an old school chum, right?”
“That’s him,” Lance said. “We were roommates for a couple of semesters. We got on all right, but then he went off to study abroad and I joined the Air Corp.”
“What did he end up studying?”
“Simon got his doctorate in archaeology. He discovered some pretty old treasures in all parts of the world.”
“Agreed,” Lance said. “He sent a telegram saying that he was onto something big and asked me to meet him.”
“Any idea why?”
“None, but he said it was urgent,” Lance said.
“And that worries you?” Buck stated matter-of-fact.
“And that’s what worries me,” Lance agreed.
“You think he’s in trouble?”
“I really don’t know, Buck. The boy sure does like digging in the dirt. Not sure how much trouble that can get you into.”
“Depends on whose dirt he’s digging around in,” Buck said.
“We’ve all got our quirks. Your friend likes digging in the dirt. We like getting elbow deep in mechanics grease and burnt oil. It takes all kinds, huh?”
“And we’ve been known to get into trouble without even trying, is that what you’re getting at?”
“Who, me?” Buck said, feigning innocence. For all of the big man’s bluster, he was a thinker. More than one man has had a bad day because he underestimated Buck Tellonger. Buck sat up straight and plucked the cigar from his teeth. “Maybe it’s time you told me where we’re headed,” he said.
“Of course, Buck. It’s no big secret. We just have to be careful is all. Simon asked that we keep this meeting under the radar. He doesn’t want to attract any undue attention.” “Hence, no Skybolt.”
“Exactly. We fly the Skybolt into this place and everyone will know who we are and it won’t be long before our friends with the cameras show up and start snapping our photos.” “Damn reporters,” Buck muttered.
“Exactly,” Lance said. As a celebrity, whether he thought of himself that way or not, Lance was a well-known public figure and his movements were newsworthy. Staying off the press’ radar was the only way a man like Lance Star could move around freely.
“The trials and tribulations of being the universally beloved Lance Star: Sky Ranger,” Buck joked, returning the cigar for another puff.
“There are enough guys who have tried to kill me to disprove that universally loved bullpucky,” Lance said. “But I take your point. That’s why we’re arriving in this unmarked model. She’s nothing anyone will give a second look at, but she’s still fully loaded with all the usual goodies just in case we need to shoot our way out of there.”
“Now that you’ve danced around that answer, I’ll ask again… where are we headed, Lance?”
“Are you familiar with the island nation of Magnapor?”
Buck nearly choked on his cigar. He coughed up a puff of noxious smoke. “I see you’ve heard of it,” Lance said, enjoying his friend’s discomfort.
“Yeah. You could say that, chief. Magnapor is a cesspool. It’s full of thieves, murders, and despots. Not the kind of place nice, civilized folks like you and me should be messing about, if you get me drift. This place makes Scavenger Quay look like an old folk’s home, for goodness sakes.”
“So, you are familiar with it then?” he said.
“I may have made a pit stop there once or twice back in my wilder days,” Buck admitted. “That’s not something I usually brag about, but you asked me specifically to come along on this trip so how did you know I knew the lay of the land?”
“You like to talk when you drink, Buck.”
“I do not!” the burly bulldog said with so much authority that his handlebar mustache all but stood at attention.
Before entering the service as a combat pilot back in the Big War, Buck had worked the private sector as a cargo pilot. Even though he handled legitimate cargo runs, Buck had also dabbled in less than legal enterprises to make ends meet. Times were tough and he couldn’t afford to be choosy with his clients. Those smelly cigars of his might have been cheap, but Buck Tellonger had a voracious appetite, as his expanding waistline demonstrated. He had also grown accustomed to living indoors.
It was this story he had once told Lance after a night out on the town. When the party died down, the flyboys took the party on the road and ended up drinking as they sat around a
campfire near Lance’s cabin at Star Field. Buck had mentioned his time flying in and out of Magnapor sland. Lance tucked the tidbit away for a rainy day.
Today’s forecast called for intermittent showers.
After the war, instead of returning to the business he had left behind, Buck came to work for Lance when the younger pilot started up his new business, a company simply named Lance Star, Incorporated. Like Buck, Lance Star was an air ace himself, having flown numerous missions both on and off the books. His goal for peacetime was to build a line of cargo planes for civilian clients and fighter planes for the United States government.
Utilizing his family’s land, left to Lance when his father passed away, they broke ground their second day back home from the fighting. The first day back, they got hammered as they roamed from one welcome home party to end of the war party, and back again.
An only child, Lance inherited the land that was now home to Star Field, a small, fully functioning private airfield in upstate New York. Once the airfield was built, Lance and his team went to work constructing a manufacturing space and several hangars to park the planes once they were completed. Small cabins lined the far end of the field, homes for Lance and his team, known across the world as the Sky Rangers. Some of the Sky Rangers kept homes outside of Star Field, but Lance made sure they each had a place to crash on those long nights when heading into the city after work was the last thing they wanted to do.
Lance Star, Incorporated and Star Field each proved successful and self-sustaining. Lance was the boss, but he wasn’t a meetings and boardroom kinda guy so he made Buck Tellonger his chief of staff. They then offered the day to day running of the place to Walt Anderson. Walt was a pilot himself, but could no longer fly due to an injury he received in combat with Baron Otto Von Blood, an old enemy of the Sky Rangers and a constantly recurring thorn in their side.
With Walt sidelined, Lance appointed him operations manager. It was a tough job, but Walt took to it like a duck to water. Before long, he had things running at peak efficiency and kept the cogs moving. As far as Lance was concerned, the position was Walt’s as long as he wanted it.
With Walt Anderson running things, that left Lance and Buck with time to do what they loved, build and fly airplanes.
Magnapor was roughly the size of Hawaii. The small island country was a patchwork of clashing ideologies. One side of the island was comprised completely of farmland, forest, and jungle. Several types of livestock were raised as well as crops planted and cultivated year-round, thanks to the island’s tropical climate. There was never a fear of a winter freeze, but the odd hurricane was a legitimate concern.
The other side of the island sported a modern city about half the size of Chicago. Skyscrapers stretched high into the sky, offering those who could afford to live and work in them expansive views of the island and the sea that surrounded them. The locals called it the Emerald City, an obvious comparison to the city from The Wizard of Oz, one of Lance’s favorite books. The green glass on the tallest skyscrapers only amplified the appellation.
From the outside looking in, Magnapor was paradise incarnate. For those who lived there, however, Magnapor was a struggle for survival. The Black Market surged on the island. Smuggling had become a bigger export than the island’s many varieties of fruit and vegetables. Many of the inhabitants, especially in the urban areas, were poor, hungry, and living in the streets under the shadows of half a million-dollar high rises.
The government was no help. Magnapor was ruled by a prince, who lead, not by example, but with an iron fist. A cabinet of ministers governed in name only. The prince kept
them on a short leash so he could continue to profit of the hard work and misery of his subjects living below. Nothing happened on the island that did not kick back a cut to the throne. Everyone knew better than to get on the prince’s bad side.
Lance lined up on approach and stared at their destination. In front of him stood a major metropolitan city surrounded by jungle. One building stood far taller than the others, it’s green glass sparkling against the sunlight.
“Would you look at that?” Lance said.
“That, my friend, is the home of the islands Overlord. He lives in the penthouse and likes to look down on his subjects from on high,” Buck said. “It would be in our best interest to avoid him and his flunkies.”
“I’ll do my best, Buck.”
“You need to take this place serious, boss. Magnapor ain’t Hell, exactly, but it’s pretty darn close.
“I read ya.” Lance pointed. “And that?”
“The volcano? Yeah. That’s a nice conversation starter. A volcano in the heart of a jungle. Impressive, no?”
“Sounds like something out of a storybook,” Lance said. “I take it, it’s…” “Oh, it’s active,” Buck confirmed. “But has not erupted in a long time. It should be safe.” “Should be…” Lance started. “When have we ever set foot on a volcano and it not erupt? Our luck doesn’t fly that way, Buck. You know that.”
“First time for everything, boss.”
Lance shot his friend a dirty look, but before he could say anything, Magnapor’s control tower chimed in.
“This is Magnapor tower to incoming aircraft. Please state you call numbers and destination.”
“Magnapor control, this is NG-387, request landing clearance.”
Long seconds ticked by as they waited for the tower chief to get back to them. Lance had landed in more airports than he cared to count and none of the tower controllers ever seemed to be in any sort of rush to get the planes on the ground.
“You are cleared for landing, NG-387,” the tower finally said. “Follow to runway two and stay on marker.”
“Copy that, tower. On marker. I have the stick.”
“See you on the ground, NG-387. Welcome to Magnapor.”
A short time later, Lance and Buck close and lock their rented hangar across from the landing strip. Lance had rented the space under the name of Rodney Knight. Once the plane was secured, they washed up, changed clothes, grabbed their gear, and headed toward the gate where they hoped to catch a taxi to take them into the Emerald City.
What neither of the air aces noticed was the man hiding in the shadows, watching them. He wore a dark suit, a frumpy jacket, a hat, and a dark tie. He would have blended completely into the shadows cast by the setting sun had he not decided to light a cigarette.
When the taxi picked them up a few minutes later, the man watched them go. A second later, an unmarked car pulled to the curb and he got inside.
“Follow them,” he told the driver.
LANCE STAR AND THE CROWN OF GENGHIS KAI
A serialized novella by Bobby Nash
“That’ll be five bucks,” the cab driver said once they arrived.
“Five dollars?” Buck Tellonger groused even as he pulled five crumpled one-dollar bills from his shirt pocket. “That’s highway robbery, pal!”
“Just pay the man,” Lance Star said as he opened the door and climbed out of the cab into the humid clime and immediately felt sweat begin to rise on his forehead.
“Many thank yous, sir,” the cabbie said as Buck passed over the cash. The local brandished a phony accent even as he flashed a crooked smile to his customers. In an exotic tourist trap like Emerald City, graft was everywhere, and prices were gouged to match. Had the cab driver known who they were, the price probably would have doubled.
“Five bucks,” Buck said for a third time once they were standing on the sidewalk outside. “That’s highway robbery. Why, I’ve half a mind to walk back to the airfield when we’re finished here.”
“In this heat?” Lance asked, wiping his forehead once more.
“Well… maybe not,” Buck agreed, dabbing a handkerchief against his own sweaty brow. Emerald City had looked like an island paradise from above the clouds. On the ground, it reminded Lance of a flea market or a bazaar out of an old Saturday serial with banners hanging everywhere and hucksters pushing their wares on unsuspecting visitors. He doubted the city was a safe place to be a tourist and instinctively touched his wallet to make sure it was securely zipped into shoulder pocket of his flight suit he wore beneath the flight jacket that he was roasting inside of at the moment. Despite the heat, the jacket stayed in place. Buck described the city bazaar as a den of thieves, a haven for ne’er-do-wells and Lance was beginning to see what his friend was talking about. At ground level, Magnapor’s Emerald City was filled with the poor and those who preyed on them. Meanwhile, the green-tinted glass of the Overlord’s tower stretched high into the heavens, towering over the city and its inhabitants.
Lance decided he didn’t care much for the Overlord. He was the kind of villain that the Sky Rangers routinely faced off against. However, as much as he might wish to introduce himself, Simon Prentiss’ message had advised discretion so he bit down on his anger and focused on the task at hand.
“I’m thinking we need a place with air conditioning,” Lance said matter-of-fact. He pointed toward the address they had been given.
“Good luck,” Buck told him. “I bet only a third of the buildings here have reliable electricity, much less functioning air conditioners.”
Lance gave him a look that asked if he was being serious.
“I told ya, pal. Magnapor ain’t Hell, but it’s darn close.”
“Let’s find this place and get out of the heat,” Lance said, pulling the name of the place his friend had set aside to meet.
The streets were still wet from an earlier rain storm that left tiny rivers flowing along the raised sidewalks. The sun was slowly setting behind the mountains to the west, casting the sky in a fiery concert of reds, oranges, yellow, blues, and purple that would soon slip silently into darkness. Like several large metropolises back in the states, Emerald City rarely slept. Colored
lights and tiki torches flared to life, casting colorful murals on the walls and makeshift bazaar shops.
It almost looked beautiful lit up in such a manner.
Lance pointed. Up ahead stood a rough and tumble dive bar with a flashing neon sign above the entrance that read Great And Powerful, another not-so-subtle nod to Baum’s classic tale. The e and r on the garish neon sign were burnt out so it read Great And Pow Ful in all caps. That was the place where Lance and Buck were headed.
“You sure this is the place?” Buck asked.
“That’s the address,” Lance said, handing over the telegraph to his friend. Shaking his head, Buck verified the address. “Not exactly the kind of place I’d expect to find a world-renowned archaeologist.”
Lance chuckled and took back the slip of paper and returned it to his inside jacket pocket. “Simon always said he would brave the gates of hell if it meant finding whatever treasure he was looking for,” the air ace said. “I guess he wasn’t kidding.”
“Visit scenic Magnapor,” Lance joked as he headed toward the front door. “Better watch your wallet,” Buck muttered and followed.
After slipping a couple of dollars a piece to the doorman who was built like a tank Buck had once fire-bombed during the war, they stepped inside the old Great and Powerful. The place was standing room only and loud music blared from the live band tucked away in the far corner. The air was filled with a mixture of sweat, booze, and old cigars that smelled worse than the el cheapo brand Buck smoked.
The club’s regulars were a who’s who of rough and rowdy sailors, smugglers, thieves, and assorted scoundrels.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” Buck asked. He was starting to get that old familiar tingle at the back of his neck that warned him he was about to get into a fight. “This is where Simon said he would meet us, Buck,” Lance assured his friend. “What can I say, his danger radar doesn’t work like yours or mine.”
“Obviously not,” Buck agreed. “Mine told me not to step foot inside this dump. I don’t like it, boss.”
“Too rough for you?” Lance asked with a snarky grin.
“I don’t mind a rough ‘n tumble pub, but this place reminds me of a powder keg. one wrong spark—” Buck snapped his fingers. “—and boom!”
“Lance!” a voice shouted from somewhere in the crowd.
Lance Star looked for his friend, but did not see him.
“Lance!” Simon Prentiss shouted again and this time he walked out of the smokey haze where his friend could see him clearly.
As always, Simon was all smiles. Lance could only recall a handful of times during college when Simon had gotten a little miffed, much less out and out angry. He was the happiest guy the pilot had ever met, unless hidden antiquities were involved. He took the stealing of historical finds very personal. Lance once broke up a fistfight between the young Mr. Prentiss and a college professor who he claimed was stealing and selling antiquities that the college museum had paid him to find to private collectors.
Lance reached out a hand and his friend shook it.
“Lance Star, you old sky jokey! How have you been, old buddy?”
“Still airborne!” Lance said and pulled the man into a bear hug, clapping him on the back. “Good to see you, pal!”
“You too,” Simon said loudly after pulling back from the hug. “It’s been way too long. Thanks for coming.”
“You called. I’m here,” Lance stated. He pointed toward his co-pilot. “Simon Prentiss, let me introduce you to Buck Tellonger. Buck is an ace pilot, second in command of the Sky Rangers, and all-around nice guy. I mean, he’s not as good a pilot as me, but who is?” Lance joked.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Buck said, offering a hand and a smile to the new acquaintance while offering side-eye to his boss.
“Likewise. Any friend of Lance’s is a friend of mine, Mr. Tellonger.”
“Buck, please,” he said, waving away the formality.
“Buck it is then. I’m Simon.”
Simon and Lance were about the same age, only a few months apart, at best, but years out in the sun and digging up ancient civilizations had prematurely aged Simon. He looked about five years older than his former college roommate. His skin was perpetually tanned from constant exposure to the elements, burnt like worn leather around the neck and forearms. His black hair was cut short, only a few centimeters all around, which made sense for someone who lived the bulk of his life outdoors where hair tended to get in the way.
“Come on,” Prentiss said. “I’ve got us a table in the back so we can talk.”
He ushered the pilots through the crowd to a small table along the back wall. The booth was a semi-circle with a table in the center. Bean-covered strings hung from the ceiling around the table. It was the closest the crowded pub could offer to a private booth. Simon held up a three fingers to the waitress, who nodded.
“Please…” Simon said and motioned for his guests to take a seat.
Before the could get comfortable, the waitress sat a pitcher of draft on the table along with three frosty mugs. She took away the glass Simon had been drinking from before his guests arrived.
“Nice place,” Buck offered.
“I’ve drank in worse,” Simon said as he poured a round for everyone.
“So have I,” Lance and Buck said in unison.
Lance took a draw off of his beer. It was cold. “Not that it’s not good to see you, Simon, because it’s damn good to see you, son, but what was so urgent you had to drag us halfway around the world?”
“I found it,” Simon said.
Lance’s smile faded. He sat his mug back on the table.
“I found it, Lance,” Simon said before his friend could say anything.
“I mean it this time, Lance. I found it!”
“You meant it last time too.”
“That was different, Lance, and you know it!”
“No! I don’t know it!” Lance said. “You know why I don’t know it?”
“Found what?” Buck asked.
The two old friends ignored him as they continued a very old argument.
“Don’t say it,” Prentiss warned.
“It’s a myth, Simon! The bloody thing doesn’t exist!”
“What doesn’t exist?” Buck asked.
“Why did you think I called you?” Prentiss asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe you missed me and wanted to catch up, talk old times?” Lance shouted. Some sailors from another table turned their direction and Lance waved them off. “What is it you’ve found? Buck asked again, a bit more forcefully this time. Simon looked at his old friend as if asking silent permission.
Lance sighed. “Go ahead,” he said and motioned for Simon to proceed.
“I’ve located The Crown of Gengis Kai.”
“I’m sorry. You’ve found the what now?” Buck asked.
“I’m not surprised you aren’t more familiar with Gengis Kai, Mr. Tellonger? His story is rarely told in the West.”
“We’re going to need more drinks for this,” Lance said, polishing off the last of the beer. He waved down the waitress.
“You never were much of a believer, were you?” Simon asked.
“In what?” Lance asked. “Simon, I admire your conviction, but Gengis Kai is nothing more than a legend, a story made up to scare kids. He’s a bogeyman, nothing more. He didn’t exist and neither did his crown. This Crown you’ve spent your whole life looking or is nothing more than a treasure hunt, a snipe. I’m sorry, pal, but there’s no evidence the guy or the crown ever existed.”
“History is rife with unproven theory, Lance. At least until it is proven true. The world was flat until someone proved it wasn’t. Earth was the center of the universe until someone proved it was not. Dinosaurs did not exist until someone dug up the bones of once. Man was never meant to fly until someone proved they could.”
“He’s got you there, boss,” Buck said, needling the point.
“Simon, I admit, it’s a great story, but that’s all it is, a story. If there was any truth to it, don’t you think you would have found it by now.”
Simon Prentiss smiled.
“Sonuvabitch,” Lance said. “You actually found something, didn’t you?” “Maybe.”
“Let’s see it!”
“Perhaps a little context for those of us who haven’t a clue what you’re talking about would be nice,” Buck Tellonger said.
Lance summoned the waitress again.
“We are definitely going to need more drinks.
The two men who followed Lance Star and Buck Tellonger from the airfield took a seat not far from the pilots and their friend. From their table, they couldn’t hear what the men were discussing, though the occasional word or two floated by loud enough to discern. Whatever they were talking about, the discussion grew heated for a moment before their voices returned to neutral.
In a city like Magnapor, a place where only a few laws existed, these men were the law. They were agents of The Overlord, the man who ruled the island with an iron fist most of the
time, but with a boot when excess force was required. Working for The Overlord was a privilege, one only open to a select few.
These two men, Agents Smith and Jones, obvious aliases, were part of that select number. They were ruthless, like their boss. Agents carried out the whims of The Overlord. His will was law.
Magnapor locals knew better than to cross these men. An Agent had full authority to do whatever they wanted, so long as it did not contradict or cross the man who lived above int eh emerald tower. The locals gave them whatever they wanted and tried to stay out of the line of fire.
Getting into club Great and Powerful was child’s play with their badges. When they picked out the table they wanted, the group who had been sitting there, vacated it quickly. “Are you certain that is him?” Jones asked, watching their quarry.
“Yes. There can be little doubt,” Smith replied.
“Yes,” Jones said. “He is the target.”