The next selection in my short story collection is The Lush of Lichtenstein, a tale of the luckiest woman on Earth, who discovers a new life on Venus, which is inhabited solely by women. Enjoy.
The Lush of Lichtenstein
A Venus 1888 Adventure
Princess Franziska Maria Johanna of Liechtenstein pranced freely about the sitting room of the Goldener Löwe Hof royal suite, dancing by herself to a waltz playing in the distance. Colonel Imbach, her appointed protector and chaperone, had refused to permit her to attend the celebrations, so she and her companion had had to make do celebrating by themselves. She twirled around the room, bumping into tables, knocking over empty wine bottles, and tipping crystal goblets.
“It is not appropriate for a recently betrothed Princess to go about the town without her intended,” Imbach had said before departing for the 1888 International Electrotechnical Exhibition. Her “intended” was Prince Friedrich Maximilian of Austria, who brought her to Linz on their engagement tour so that he could see the technological achievements on display.
“It’s not fair, Betty,” the pretty brunette said to Elizabeth Falconbridge, her lady-in-waiting and closest friend. “I am a worldly woman. I have seen the Coliseum in Rome, the pyramids of Egypt, and the Grand Canyon. Why does the prince get to go about the celebrations while I must remain cloistered here at the hotel?”
“It’s not like you couldn’t have gone along, Sissi,” Betty said with feigned reproach.
“Freddy asked you to accompany him.”
“Well, yes, he did,” Sissi said petulantly. “But who cares about locomotives and aetherships when there is wine, music, and dancing?” She strode purposely over to the door and opened it. Private Oskar Gander, the handsome, young soldier who stood guard just outside, nodded acknowledgment and returned to attention without a word.
“Private,” she said sternly, “I command you to dance with me.”
Gander looked sheepishly to Private Felix Soltermann on the other side of the door, but the other guard stared forward at attention, the slightest hint of a grimace showing on his face.
“I’m sorry, Princess,” Gander said respectfully, “but I cannot leave my post.”
“And you?” the Princess said to Soltermann with irritation.
“I am also charged with your protection,” Soltermann said. “Besides, it would be improper to dance while Miss Falconbridge must wait in the wings,” he added with an admiring glance at Betty.
“So neither of you will attend me,” the Princess declared haughtily.
“We cannot leave our post until Sergeant Küttel returns,” Gander replied. “And he has gone with Colonel Imbach to the exhibition.”
“Very well then,” Sissi said, slamming the door. She stormed over to a divan and sank dejectedly into it. “I don’t see why the men are allowed to enjoy themselves while we must wait here at their pleasure.” Then she noticed a mischievous glance from Betty as her companion handed Sissi glass of wine.
“Well, Betty,” the Princess said loudly, “if we must remain here, we should at least wait in comfort. There’s no need for gowns and corsets here.” She winked at Betty with a grin.
“Indeed, your highness,” Betty said, her resigned tone barely stifling a giggle. “Let me help you out of that rig before you succumb to the vapors.”
As the Princess spoke, Sissi stepped quietly over to the door and peeked through the keyhole. She was disappointed to find that no one was looking in. Nevertheless, she inserted the key and locked the door. She left the key in the lock to fend off prying eyes. Sissi turned to her companion, but then took a rug, laid it across the bottom of the door, and bunched it up. Should someone manage to poke the key out into the room, the rug would prevent them from getting it under the door to unlock it from the outside.
Once the room was secure, Betty assisted the Princess in removing her gown, and then removed her own. Together they donned simple, blue and white, peasant dresses. Then Sissi glanced out over the balcony. The secluded courtyard was empty. She whistled. A moment later, Werner Hofstetter, her driver, led a mule with a cart of hay into the courtyard and stopped below the window. With a last look into the chamber, Sissi slid over the balcony. Betty followed a moment later.
* * *
As night fell three hours later, Sissi and Betty found themselves surrounded by unconscious men. They sat at a bench in the secluded courtyard of a Biergarten on Hofgasse near the exposition grounds. Following their exodus from the Goldener Löwe Hof, Werner had transported the young women beneath the hay in the back of the wagon to the banks of the Donau near the Schlosspark where the exposition was being held, which was in the shadow of the Linzer Schloss. As soon as they peeked their heads out from beneath the hay, the two were collected by a pair of gallant young soldiers from the castle and escorted to a Biergarten. They then plied Sissi and Betty with drinks until the soldiers passed out. The challenge was taken up, with subtle suggestions from the “innocent farmgirls on their first trip to the city” by a string of lecherous peasants until word had spread and a crowd had gathered to watch the two wenches drink all challengers under the table.
Betty was bleary-eyed and unsteady, and Sissi was leaning back against the table in an indelicate pose when a squad of solders in Imperial livery cleared the courtyard. Once the crowd had been dispersed, Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and Hungary, emerged from a curtained carriage and strolled into view with a look of amusement. The balding, old man wore a white uniform bedecked with medals. The young man who followed, dressed in a pale blue uniform with a red sash, did not share the emperor’s amusement. Prince Friedrich Maximilian fumed as he strode purposefully to the Princess, grabbed her arm, and jerked her to her feet.
“Again you embarrass me with your frivolity,” the prince hissed in her face. Sissi belched, the smell causing the prince to turn away and cover his nose with his free hand.
“You are a boor,” Sissi slurred back, slapping the prince’s hand away. “I have been cloistered in that hotel for two days while you took in the sights. I have traveled to the holy land, the jungles of Africa, and the American west. Why must I submit to such treatment?”
“Because I am your intended husband and a Prince of the Austrian Empire,” Friedrich retorted as he slapped her face. Seeing her friend and mistress attacked, Betty leapt at the prince with unexpected agility and moved between them. The emperor convulsed with laughter and leaned against another table trying to catch his breath.
“Come now, your Highnesses,” Betty said, placing her hands on each of their chests. At her touch on his uniform the prince backhanded Betty, who with a startled cry knocked the Princess into the lieutenant commanding the Emperor’s guard. Sissi drew the startled officer’s revolver and aimed it at the prince.
“I will not be treated in this manner,” Sissi said scornfully. She closed her eyes as she pulled the trigger. The shot went wide, ricocheted off the cobblestones, and grazed Franz Josef, Emperor of Austria and Hungary, in the buttocks. The emperor fell onto a table, still laughing uncontrollably, and was swarmed by courtiers.
“Seize her,” the prince cried. The soldiers started toward the Princess, but everyone took cover as Sissi drunkenly emptied the pistol, reflexively closing her eyes as she fired. Betty grabbed Sissi’s hand and the two ran off through a maze of alleys. When they emerged onto the Hofgasse, they were consumed by the throng and were separated, only to be reunited at the entrance to the exposition.
“There!” Prince Friedrich shouted, pointing at the two from the mouth of the alley. As the three soldiers forced their way through the pedestrian traffic, Sissi led Betty deeper into the exposition grounds. The masses were converging on a pool, behind which stood a ten foot wall, where an electric powered waterfall was to be activated using current generated by a hydroelectric power plant on the river built specifically for the exposition.
While the gathering spectators slowed their pursuers, Betty led Sissi to what looked like a silo of some kind, where she blindly opened a door and the two ascended a stairway into a giant metal sphere with three massive bent legs like a cauldron to support it. At the top of the stairwell was another door, which Betty pulled open and dragged the Princess through. She placed Sissi into one of four comfortable chairs arrayed in two pairs. Betty pulled the door closed and turned a wheel to lock it in place. Then she sat in another of the chairs.
“I think we have evaded them for now,” Betty said, “but there’s going to be quite a row when we meet the Prince again.” She looked seriously at Sissi, and then the two started giggling uncontrollably, kicking their legs and pounding their arms on the armrests and console.
* * *
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the man at the podium shouted, “when this lever is pulled,” he indicated a switch held by a man in a laboratory coat, “electric current generated by the turbines on the mighty Danube behind me will operate the pumps of this artificial waterfall, enabling the water in the pool below to be cycled to the top and cascade perpetually. In addition, the same current generated will assume the task of illuminating the entire exhibition and all its attractions!”
The speaker nodded to the man at the switch who pulled the long arm down with some unexpected difficulty. There was a buzz when it reached the bottom. A murmur of alarm swept over the gathered crowd. Then a great rumbling knocked down the men on the podium and some of the spectators, followed by the ignition of an array of fireworks behind the stage. The temporary silo around the von Strickenheim aethership, which had been on display behind the waterfall, collapsed. As the spectators watched, the aethership faded away in a cloud of ozone. A wave of applause rose from the assembly.
Then the entire exhibition was suddenly lit up as bright as day, and the sound of an amplified musical recording muffled the renewed roar of the crowd.
* * *
Suddenly, there was a blinding flash. Princess Franziska Maria Johanna of Liechtenstein and her companion Elizabeth Falconbridge sank into the chairs and passed out.
TO BE CONTINUED…