Who's Who in the Traction Era
(By Mrs E.P.Hive-Peril)
NIMROD BEAUREGARD PENNYROYAL
Explorer, Historian, Heartthrob, Hero
On March 2nd, 957, at the height of a violent storm, a minor actress named Tilly Pennyroyal gave birth to a baby boy in a hamper behind the scenes of Brighton's Marlborough Theatre. Who the child's father was, history does not record. Miss Pennyroyal was known to have been friendly with an itinerant unicyclist and novelty turnip-whittler who had appeared at the Marlborough the previous season under the name of 'The Great Stupendo', but she always hinted that her little boy was of nobler blood, perhaps the son of some rich admirer from Cittamotore or Trieste.
Ms Pennyroyal worked hard to support the boy, and although they lived in humble one-room lodgings above a laundry in White Orc, she saved enough to send him to the best schools in Brighton. However, the young Nimrod was expelled from each one in turn, for laziness, copying another boy's work, theft, and misbehaviour with the under-matron. By the age of sixteen there was no reputable school aboard the city which would take him, and since he had no qualifications and no skills there was nothing for it but to work in the theatre.
Of Nimrod's brief career as an actor we have few records (some unkind biographers suggest that he destroyed all copies of the reviews himself). However, his performance as the King of Tring in EB Golightly's London Dawn was described by the Brighton Evening Palimpsest as 'ghastly' and the production of Frances Thinge's Attraction and Anti-Traction in which he played the juvenile lead set a new record for the city by closing after less than one performance. Unable to find another part, Pennyroyal turned to writing, and throughout his twenties he supported himself and his ageing mother by penning a series of poorly-received plays and off-colour variety-hall sketches.
Then, in 987, soon after the death of his beloved mother, Pennyroyal vanished. Some people imagined that he had thrown himself, grief-stricken and penniless, into the sea. A few of his friends went so far as to hold a memorial service. But in the spring of 989 he returned, announcing that he had been travelling in the South American continent, where he had had a series of remarkable adventures. These he wrote down in the first of his best-selling books; Ziggurat Cities of the Serpent God, (Fewmet & Spraint, 989) (Reports that a man answering to Pennyroyal's description had been living aboard the city of Barcelona with an exotic juggler named Concepción Zipsky were dismissed as jealous rumours invented by less successful writers).
Over the next few years Pennyroyal made several more journeys, and became known as a controversial historian as well as a daring explorer. His book on Ancient refuse sites, Rubbish? Rubbish! (Fewmet & Spraint, 1002) still divides historians, and his account of discovering a green enclave on the Dead Continent has never been conclusively disproved.
Nowadays, Nimrod Pennyroyal is often to be seen at the most fashionable parties, aboard the most fashionable cities, and his name has been linked romantically with some of the most beautiful and sophisticated women of the age, including Minty Bapsnack, the Von Neumann twins, Lady Cressida Flute-Murk and the Parisian track-plate heiress Ryvita Baum. His application for membership of London's Guild of Historians was rejected, but he has acquired a Master's Degree from the University of Cittamotore (in exchange for a generous donation) and now styles himself Professor Pennyroyal. We understand that he is currently preparing an expedition to the frozen north, where he plans to write a book about the mysterious origins of the Tannhauser volcanoes, working title, Kaboom!...
The Stalker's Stalker
When was he quickened? We do not know. Who Resurrected him? We cannot say. Why did he out-last all the other Stalkers of his age?
No one can tell.
The Stalker Shrike is a difficult subject for a biography, but at all the great turning points in the history of the Traction Era, Shrike was present.
It is generally believed that Shrike was one of the Lazarus Brigade, an army of Stalkers built by the Movement, one of the fiercest of the Nomad Empires. In all probability he was made from the body of a dead soldier taken from one of their battlefields. He certainly fought during all the major battles of the Northern War, during which the Movement, having settled in London and begun turning it into a Traction City, had to struggle against rival powers for fuel and raw materials. At some point, however, he must have developed a form of self-awareness, and it drove him to leave his masters' army and become a loner.
Rogue Stalkers of this type were not unknown. Usually they destroyed themselves, or became unable to fight, but Shrike was different. It is possible that the Resurrection technology used to quicken him was of an experimental type, or perhaps a relic taken from one of the legendary Memory Tombs of the mysterious high-arctic Pyramid Builders. There is a rumour that the surgeon-mechanic who constructed him was the legendary Wavey Godshawk, a Scriven mutant who may have had reasons of her own for making him as he was. At any rate, Shrike's growing individuality only seems to have made him fiercer, more ruthless and more determined to survive. Throughout the final years of the Nomad Empires he drifts in and out of the records, acting as a mercenary for one side or another. At the very end of that era we find him commanding the rusty Stalker platoons which the nomads fielded to try and defeat the newly mobile city of London. The rest of their Stalkers were all crushed and obliterated under London's tracks, but Shrike somehow escaped.
In the centuries that followed, the rise of Municipal Darwinism put an end to formal wars. Apparently motivated by the simple love of killing, Shrike found employment as an executioner aboard Paris, where criminals still revere him as a sort of dark god. Later, he became an assassin in the pay of the Mayor of Kutsoi, but when the mayor ordered him to murder the young children of a political opponent, Shrike refused and killed the mayor instead, before fleeing into the out-country, where he became a vicious and much-feared bounty-hunter.
This was the first sign of an odd weakness in the old Stalker. When the traveller Chung-Mai Spofforth spoke to him in 923TE during the writing of her book In Search Of The Stalkers (Peripatetiapolis University Press, 926) he remembered several occasions when he had spared or protected children for reasons that he could not (or, at any rate, did not) explain. Many years later he would rescue and protect a disfigured waif named Hester Shaw, who lived with him for several years aboard the scavenger-platform of Strole. When she disappeared, Shrike followed her, and at that point he seems to drop out of history.
Some rumours claim that he entered the service of Magnus Crome, the last Lord Mayor of London. Others say that he was destroyed by a hero named Tomasz or Tao-ma on an anti-tractionist island in the Sea of Khazak, (although this seems highly unlikely). Whatever the truth may be, Stalkerologists are agreed on one thing.
Shrike will return!
Born aboard the Raft City of Dun Laoghaire in 990 TE, Orla's first memory was of standing on the observation decks at her city's stern to watch daredevil airships perform acrobatics over the sea. The lives of the men and women who flew them seemed to Orla far more romantic than the one which fate seemed to have mapped out for her, as heir to her father's roll-mop herring fortune. When she was sixteen she argued with her parents over their plans to have her forcibly married to a pilchard magnate. Sneaking out of the family home late one winter's night she made her way to the air-harbour and fled fishy Dun Laoghaire for ever aboard the air-freighter Saltimbanco.
In the years that followed, Orla learned the trade of an aviatrix, serving aboard several different merchant ships before becoming captain of the tea-clipper Cygnet Committee during the first years of the Green Storm's war against the cities. Soon after that the first heavier-than-air flying machines began to appear, and naturally Orla's interest was aroused. She purchased a MkI Luperini Sea-Eagle, which she kept tethered under the envelope of the Cygnet Committee and taught herself to pilot in her spare time. Her investment paid off when Green Storm airships attacked the Cygnet Committee over Perfume Harbour and she was able to board her flying machine and destroy the whole squadron. Using the reward which her ship's grateful owners gave her, she bought herself out of the air trade and joined the Junkyard Angels, the first of the mercenary air-forces which were springing up at that time, offering their services to cities eager to defend themselves against the Storm's air-fleets and tumbler-bombs.
Orla flew with the Angels until 1021, and was responsible for shooting down three Green Storm air destroyers at the Battle of the Bay of Bengal in August 1019. Her flying machine, the Combat Wombat, became one of the most famous in the air, and many is the schoolboy who has spent a happy weekend constructing a scale model of it from balsa wood and string.
Whether she split with the Junkyard Angels because she felt they were not paying her enough, or because she had had an unhappy romance with their leader, Spats McFarlane (as suggested in the play Wings of Passion by Okement Frail) is unclear. However, in the autumn of 1022 she placed an advertisement in the Aviator's Gazette announcing the formation of her own air force, the now legendary Flying Ferrets. Many of the bravest and most foolhardy aviators of the day soon flocked to the Ferrets' banner, and over the course of the next few years they became famous for their daring aerobatics and wild parties as well as for the many spectacular victories they scored over the Green Storm's air fleets.
When we look back at the glorious history of Municipal Darwinism, Thaddeus Valentine stands out as one of its greatest heroes. A daring explorer, an important historian, a loving father, the author of many entertaining books, a brave intelligence agent for his adopted city of London... Valentine was all these things and more. Suggestions that he was responsible for several unsolved murders, and that he was the father of an unpleasant person named Hester Shaw, are mere tittle-tattle, peddled by second-rate writers.
Born Tadeusz Wallenstein aboard the scavenger village of Gröwli sometime around 969, Valentine spent his childhood moving from one small town to another aboard his father's airship, the Brockenspectre. But the Wallensteins were not a close family, and young Tadeusz was frustrated by his father's meagre ambitions. In later years he would write, "My Father was quite content to dig up scraps of rusty circuitry from the out-country mud and sell them on to smelters or traders for the price of a drink. Never once did he stop to ponder what sort of world these relics had come from, nor what could be learned by studying them. Of course, I was as ignorant as him, but unlike him, I knew that I was ignorant, and I longed to learn."
Tadeusz got his chance in 975, when the city of Oxford bogged down in the Caledonian frost-marches and the Brockenspectre (along with half the other scavenger airships in the sky) sped north to loot it. Whilst his family squabbled with rival looters over the contents of houses and engine-rooms, Tadeusz found his way into the labyrinthine book-stacks of the ancient Bodleian Library, where volumes from every era of man's history were stored. Having won the trust of the surly and dangerous Librarians, he was soon called upon by other, more enlightened scavengers, who hoped to secure certain precious texts for themselves. Among them was a party from the Historian's Guild of London. So impressed were they by the help he gave them that their leader, Chudleigh Pomeroy, offered him a position at the London Museum.
Abandoning his family, Tadeusz flew back to London with his new friends.
In London, the young man's true potential was to be realised. He learned quickly, and was soon a full member of the Guild of Historians, changing his name to the more Londonish Thaddeus Valentine. His experiences as a scavenger, however, had left him with a much better grasp of the practical business of archaeology than most of his new colleagues. He began making long and dangerous journeys in search of Old-Tech relics, which he wrote about in a series of best-selling books (Adventures of A Practical Historian, Across the Dead Continent with Gun and Camera, Further Adventures of a Practical Historian, etc.) His airship, the 13th Floor Elevator, became famous, as did her crew; the reformed air-pirates Pewsey and Gench, and Valentine's beautiful co-pilot Pandora Rae, with whom, despite her notorious anti-Tractionist sympathies, Valentine was rumoured to be in love.
At some point, Valentine's skills came to the attention of Magnus Crome, the up-and-coming leader of the Guild of Engineers. The long and unlikely friendship between these two quite different men were to lead to many important developments in technology, as Old-tech fragments unearthed by Valentine were back-engineered by Crome's technicians. It was on Crome's orders that Valentine made his famous expeditions to America, during which he fell in love with Nuria Zinadan, High Priestess of Clio on the raft city of Puerto Angeles. Their affair led to the end of his long relationship with Ms Rae, but it was short-lived, since Nuria would not leave her city, and Valentine could not bring himself to give up his career in London. After they parted Nuria gave birth to a daughter, Katherine, who would later be sent to live with her Father in London.
By then, Crome was Lord Mayor, and it was at his behest that Valentine was appointed Head Historian in 998 BT. This was a controversial decision, since there were many Historians senior to Valentine who had hoped for the job themselves. It was widely rumoured that Valentine served Crome not just as a Historian but as an intelligence agent, and even an assassin. However, despite this rift with his fellow Historians, Valentine retained his popularity with the London public. If anything, the rumours of a shadowy double-life only made him more attractive.
He moved into the Head Historian's official residence in Circle Park, where he lived with his daughter, and continued to serve the city loyally, flying to the Ice Wastes and Nuevo Maya in search of Old Tech and adventure. In 1007, when London made its fateful push east towards the Anti-Traction League's fortress at Batmunkh Gompa, it was Valentine who flew ahead to spy out the route...