Broadcast of this episode was delayed by unavoidable technical difficulties. It has, however, aged like fine wine and improved by another pass through the Editrix’s twisted mindscape of Austen meta.
The Gentlemen of His Majesty’s Armed Forces
In which there are many explosions.
There was no moon, and the stars were brilliant in the inky sky. Something moved in the darkness, like black velvet rippling; a voice, low and modulated, said, “The dove flies from Chawton.”
A second voice answered, “It is a truth universally acknowledged.”
A third voice said, “Why not seize the pleasure at once?”
A small flame flared as the leader lit a lamp. “Were you followed?” he asked.
“I was not,” said the second gentleman as he stepped into the light. “Tibby?”
“You know me better than that, Fizzer.” The third gentleman stepped into the small ring of light. Like the others, he wore a very well-tailored, close-fitting black suit.
“By the way, Tibby,” the man called Fizzer whispered, “I have not thanked you for referring me to that tailor.”
“My pleasure,” said Tibby. “My little brother is good for some things.”
“Gentlemen,” said their leader, “it is time. Let us prepare.” He pulled out a rough knitted cap and pulled it on.
The other two exchanged grins. “Did Mrs. Brandon knit that?” asked Fizzer.
“Don’t tease him, Fizzer,” said Tibby. “No doubt it was made with love, if not with skill.”
“If you ever have a wife,” said Colonel Brandon, unruffled by the teasing, “you should count yourself fortunate if she is as concerned for your comfort and safety as Mrs. Brandon is for mine.”
A rustling sound came from outside the circle of light, and they jumped to alert.
“Evening, gents,” came a voice from the dark. The three officers whirled and raised their weapons in the direction of the sound.
“Whoa, whoa,” said the newcomer. As he stepped into the light, they saw that he wore scarlet regimentals. “I’m a friend!”
Fizzer rolled his eyes and said under his breath, “Oh, no.”
“This is a soldier’s mission,” said Tibby. “We don’t need any weekend warriors, plebe.”
“Here,” said the newcomer in an aggrieved tone. “I’m in the regulars now, same as you, Tilney.”
“You can buy a commission,” said Fizzer, “but that doesn’t make you a soldier.”
“You should know, Fitzwilliam,” said the newcomer. “Your cousin paid for my commission. Well, I’m here now, and ready to go! What’s the plan, gents?”
“Nothing that includes the likes of you,” said Captain Tilney. “Seriously, regimentals? Why don’t you just hang a sign around your neck that says, ‘Eat Me’?”
“The ladies,” said Wickham with a smug smile, “love a scarlet coat.”
Captain Tilney looked as though he had more to say, but Colonel Brandon spoke first. “General Tilney ordered me to find a place for Ensign Wickham in this mission. However, Ensign, you are late for the rendezvous, and you failed to observe operational security.”
“I would have been here earlier,” said Wickham, snickering, “but Lydia wouldn’t let me go. You know how it is, Tilney,” he said, digging an elbow into Captain Tilney’s ribs.
Captain Tilney growled at him, and Wickham backed away nervously.
“Peace, gentlemen,” said Colonel Brandon. “Ensign Wickham can make himself useful by carrying a message back to our reinforcements in Meryton. Pray tell them that the operation will begin timely, and to make the rendezvous at the predetermined time.”
“That’s it?” asked Wickham. “That’s all I am to do? I came all this way, and put myself into the Lord knows how much personal danger, to carry a bloody message?”
“Be grateful it’s a message you’re carrying, and not your guts in your hat,” said Colonel Tilney, advancing menacingly.
“That will do, Captain. You have your orders, Ensign,” said Colonel Brandon, his voice quieter and more dangerous than ever.
Wickham left them, grumbling as he walked away.
“Gentlemen,” said Colonel Brandon, “the time for our operation approaches. Let us prepare.” Fitzwilliam and Tilney donned smart black berets that set off their chiseled jawlines admirably, and they all smudged their faces with charcoal. They each shouldered a bulging rucksack with a small shovel attached to it and draped thin rope across their bodies.
Colonel Brandon checked his watch and cast a cloth over the lamp that allowed it to emit only the smallest light. “Remember your orders, gentlemen,” he said. “Operate in silence and darkness. We will rendezvous here in one hour. Do not forget whom we serve: Miss Jane Austen.”
“Miss Austen,” said Fitzwilliam.
“Miss Austen,” said Tilney.
“Godspeed,” said Colonel Brandon, and they slipped silently into the darkness.
An hour later
There was movement in the darkness and the sound of shuffling feet. An eerie sound rose: voices raised, at the same time unified and disjointed, moaning a single refrain: “BRAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNNNS.”
A flame flashed forth in the darkness, then two, then three. Each traveled in a winding line along the dark ground; an explosion rent the night, then another, and another.
Half-rotted limbs flew through the air with each fiery blast. The explosions continued, timed and placed so that each explosion fired the next. The air was filled with smoke, and anyone who succeeded in crossing that hellish expanse would have stumbled upon the prone bodies of the undead.
A figure, dressed in black and with his knitted hat knocked askew, stumbled out of the smoke, holding a lamp aloft. “Where the hell are my reinforcements?” he cried. “Fitzwilliam! Tilney!”
Two more figures emerged from the smoke and into his light, one supporting the other. “I regret to report, Colonel Brandon,” said Captain Tilney, “that Fizzer has lost some of the speed he displayed in past engagements.” He spoke lightly, but his tight face showed his concern. He eased his comrade onto the ground.
“Just a scratch, Tibby,” gasped Colonel Fitzwilliam. “Calculated to make me more interesting to the ladies.”
“Our reinforcements seem to be delayed, gentlemen,” said Colonel Brandon.
“The bombs slowed them considerably,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam, “but did not stop them completely. I feared it would be so. The introduction of zombies into Miss Jane Austen’s novels created a pop culture zeitgeist of such proportions that it resisted traditional ordnance.”
“The Naval gentlemen were able to defeat the sea monster,” said Colonel Brandon.
“Yes, but everyone knows there is no power on earth, let alone a giant squid, that can withstand the might of the British Navy. But with the reinforcement of the Blankshire militia, we could still defeat this lot.”
“I knew we shouldn’t have trusted that cowardly git Wickham with critical intelligence,” said Captain Tilney.
“It looks as though we must handle the cleanup ourselves,” said Colonel Brandon. “Fitzwilliam, can you fight?”
Colonel Fitzwilliam struggled to his feet. “I can fight, sir.” Captain Tilney clapped him on the back.
“Good man. It is cold steel, then, gentlemen.”
They each unsheathed a cutlass and turned back to face the advancing, inexorable zombie horde. Those three gentlemen may have appeared to the casual observer to be privileged men of leisure, but they were soldiers first, and had the conviction of a just and noble cause. Together they cut a swath through the undead, whirling and slicing and hacking. The zombies fell before them like sand before a hurricane.
As the sky lightened, they stood victorious among a field of their defeated enemy.
“We have done good work tonight, gentlemen,” said Colonel Brandon, fastidiously wiping zombie gore from his cutlass. “Your duty to Miss Austen is fulfilled. I shall mention both of you very favorably in my dispatches.”
As the sun peeked over the horizon, they heard the sound of feet marching in time with a drumbeat, and a piccolo playing “The Girl I Left Behind.”
“I hate that (soldierly expletive deleted) song,” muttered Captain Tilney.
The Blankshires, led by Ensign Wickham on a white horse, marched from the shrubbery. “Halloa halloa halloa!” called Wickham gaily. “Where are the enemy? Here we are, all prepared to fight, right, Blankshires?”
Colonel Forster called a halt, and the men looked at the steaming pile of zombie parts.
“’Ere, Wickham,” said Mr. Denny, “it looks like we missed the fun. I thought you said we were going to fight zombies.”
“I said we were to rendezvous,” said Wickham. “Right-o, Colonel Brandon, it looks as though you have anticipated us and taken care of it all yourselves. Jolly good.”
“You are late again, Ensign Wickham,” said Colonel Brandon.
“We took a wrong turn,” said Wickham. “Perhaps several wrong turns. Oh, here, Colonel, dispatches for you.” He handed over a sealed package.
“I don’t know what you’re afraid of, Wickham,” said Captain Tilney. “It’s not as though you have any brains. The zombies won’t touch you.”
Wickham made an aggressive movement, which made Tilney laugh.
“Oh, just give me an excuse, plebe,” he said, rolling up his sleeves.
Colonel Brandon, having read his dispatches, interrupted them. “Gentlemen, I regret to report the enemy has not been vanquished. General Tilney writes that a prequel has been announced. I am ordered to report to headquarters to go over strategy. Colonel Fitzwilliam, I leave you in command. Remember, gentlemen, your first duty is to Miss Austen.” He whistled loudly, and a black stallion cantered out of the woods and over to him.
Wickham eyed Fitzwilliam and Tilney warily. “Er, Colonel, can’t you stay just a little while longer?”
“I dare not lose an hour.” He galloped away.
“Well!” cried Wickham. “Here we are and all that.”
Fitzwilliam and Tilney looked down upon him, their arms across their chests and smirks upon their faces. Wickham’s grin faltered.
“Tibby,” said Colonel Fitzwilliam, “I think while we wait for Colonel Brandon to return with new orders, we should conduct training exercises.”
“Indeed, Fizzer,” said Captain Tilney. “Up at dawn, in bed at midnight, lots of good hard physical work between.”
“Marching,” said Fitzwilliam.
“Drilling,” said Tilney.
Wickham backed away.
“Gun practice,” said Fitzwilliam.
“Hand-to-hand combat,” said Tilney, cracking his knuckles and grinning at Wickham, a martial light in his eye.
Wickham whimpered and turned away, but was blocked from retreating by several of the Blankshires’ officers.
“I hear you messed with my sister,” said Mr. Denny.
“You owe me money,” said Mr. Pratt.
“You asked me to dance when I was wearing a dress,” said Mr. Chamberlayne.
Captain Tilney growled.
Ensign George Wickham
The Gentlemen of the Blankshires
With Very Special Guest stars:
Dwayne Johnson as Colonel the Hon. Montgomery Fitzwilliam*
Adam Baldwin as Captain Frederick Tilney
*I’m trying to put TeresaAF in a coma, basically, though she may be too distracted by that pointy-eared fellow to care.
The fight to defend Miss Jane Austen continues, fellow Janeites, in the next episode of The League of Austen’s Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Gentlemen of the Hunt. Tune in two weeks from tonight* for more adventure!
*Next week’s episode will be pre-empted for something else very special!