Jerry Cornelius (The English Assassin)

By Roger Ley

sfgenreJerry Cornelius knelt by the side of his Norton motorcycle, laid his Lee-Enfield over the saddle, and sighted at the airship as it chuffed past, half a mile away. The musket was a new design with a rifled barrel, its accuracy unbelievably improved. His shot hit the airship’s boiler and a jet of steam and water began to gush out. The rear propeller slowed and stopped almost at once. The ship was at the mercy of the wind. Its pilot, Telford Stephenson, would have to land and make repairs if he wanted to deliver the stolen ironclad warship plans to the rebel government. Cornelius, being an agent of the British Government in London, had no intention of letting Stephenson deliver the plans to York, the Northern Alliance’s capital city.

Stephenson evidently hadn’t heard the shot over the sound of the steam engine.

Cornelius watched as he started the Helium compressors and the airship began to lose height. He mounted his motorcycle and followed at a safe distance, riding on and off-road as necessary.

A few miles ahead, the airship passed over a farmer walking his ploughing team home. Stephenson shouted down to him, then threw out a rope. Cornelius watched as he spoke to the farmer, then lowered down a sack of what had to be salt or sugar, currency these days. The farmer hitched the rope to the team of horses, and they began to haul the airship towards the farmhouse visible in the valley below them. Half an hour later, Cornelius saw Stephenson securing the dirigible with ropes and pegs near the entrance to the barn; presumably he needed its workshop facilities.

Cornelius found a hill that overlooked the farm, lay down, pulled out his telescope, and kept watch on Stephenson for the next few hours. Stephenson spent a long time shaping a copper patch and cleaning the mating surfaces before he soldered it onto the boiler. As darkness fell Stephenson stopped, washed in a horse trough, then knocked on the farmhouse door. The farmer’s wife answered; she was a plump, middle aged woman, drying her hands on her apron as she gestured him inside.

Seeing his chance, Cornelius walked quietly down the hill, climbed into the airship’s open gondola and began to search for the stolen ironclad warship’s plans. He found them rolled up in a leather drawing tube strapped to the pedestal of the ship’s wheel. He had taken them out and stuffed them into the side pocket of his leather riding coat when he felt the barrel of a revolver jabbed roughly into his back.

‘I’ll take them if you don’t mind,’ said Stephenson, chuckling. ‘You don’t think I could mistake a bullet hole for a blown seam, do you? Besides,’ he held up the lead ball that he’d found embedded in his boiler and raised an eyebrow, ‘I’m glad it’s you though, Jerry. I owe you a favour, since you carried me back over the lines to your field hospital at the battle of Lincoln.’

‘How did you escape?’ asked Cornelius.

‘I didn’t, they patched me up and sent me home as part of a prisoner exchange.’

‘Presumably you were all sworn not to take part in hostilities again,’ said Cornelius.

Stephenson shrugged. He stepped back, keeping the revolver aimed steadily at his prisoner’s midriff. ‘Turn around and put these on,’ he said as he threw over a pair of handcuffs. ‘You sleep in the barn; the farmer can release you in the morning.’ He gestured with the gun and Cornelius walked through the large open doors. Stephenson roped his handcuffs to a beam above his head, it wouldn’t be a comfortable night.

In the morning he could hear Stephenson fussing with the airship’s boiler and getting up steam. There was a conversation between him and the farmer, then the chuffing of the airship’s engine slowly receded as it gained height. The farmer came in and unlocked the cuffs. Cornelius walked out of the barn rubbing life back into his wrists and looked up at the airship gaining height. At about a thousand feet, the aneroid triggers fired the charges he’d planted. The two rear support ropes parted and the gondola fell from a horizontal to a vertical configuration. He could see Stephenson clinging to the wheel for dear life, his legs dangling and kicking, his top hat falling.

The engine and boiler ripped free and fell towards the ground; there was a satisfyingly large steam explosion as they hit. The airship, freed from much of its ballast, began a rapid ascent towards the stratosphere. Cornelius could hear Stephenson’s screams and wondered if he would use his parachute or regain vertical control before he reached fifteen thousand feet, the asphyxiation limit. Stephenson wasn’t a bad sort. As youngsters they’d both been scholars at the Royal Hospital Naval Academy. They’d played on the same rugby team and there had been a certain amount of mutual experimentation in the showers. Anyway, it was part of the London Government’s plan that Jerry retrieve the original plans and substitute counterfeit plans for delivery to the Northern Alliance. The ones he had handed to Telford specified an increase in the thickness of the armour plating that would leave the ironclad battleship top heavy. It would almost certainly capsize when they launched it from the slipway of whichever Govan shipyard it was built in. He looked forward to reading about it in the Telegraph in about two years’ time. He imagined a Daguerreotype of the ship lying across the Clyde, rendering the river unnavigable. That would give the Northerners and their Celtic allies something to think about.

Cornelius patted the pocket of his coat and felt the wad of original plans safely deposited where he’d hidden them before Stephenson captured him.

Stephenson’s top hat, complete with leather driving goggles, fell at his feet. He reached down, picked it up, examined it for damage and, finding none, placed it on his head, giving it a cheery pat.

‘You’ll be wantin’ your breakfast then, supposin’ ye can pay for it,’ said the farmer.

‘No thanks old chum, I’ll have it at my club,’ said Cornelius as he strode off, bell bottom trousers flapping.


A few minutes later, the farmer heard a motorcycle start. He saw it set off on the London road, the stranger’s long hair trailed out behind him from underneath the hat and goggles.

Then the hat blew off, and the farmer made a note to retrieve it later.

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About The Author

Roger Ley

roger ley2 200Roger Ley was born and educated in London and spent some of his formative years in Saudi Arabia. He worked as an engineer in the oilfields of North Africa and the North Sea, before joining the nuclear industry and later pursuing a career in higher education. 

Roger's short stories have appeared in a dozen ezines this year.

His time travel novel ‘Chronoscape’ protects causality by using a branching model for the Timestream. If you go back and change things you start a new branch, simple.

Find him at <>.

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nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

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mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at

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Coming In Issue 245

Coffee With God
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Crossing Mercury
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Hugh's Friend
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by Natalie JE Potts

Much Needed Boost
by David Scholes

Painting The Future
by Robin Hillard

The Final Squeeze
by Zena Shapter

The Fire
by Chris Gladstone

The Prince Scamp — His Wrath
by Wes Parish

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AntiSF's Narration Team


pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

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And is a theatre reviewer for 2SER FM in Sydney.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (available now).

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Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <>

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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david whitaker 200David Whitaker is originally from the UK though has travelled around a bit and now resides in India. He has a degree in Journalism, however decided that as he’s always preferred making things up it should ultimately become a resource rather than a profession.

His stories, covering everything from sci-fi to philosophy, have been published across the globe and links to each can be found at <>

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timonthy gwyn 100Timothy Gwyn is a professional pilot in Canada, where he flies to remote communities. During a lull in his flying career, he was a radio announcer for three years, and he is also an author.

In addition to short stories at AntipodeanSF and, his SF novel is available internationally in print and ebook formats. "Avians" draws on his love of alternative aviation to tell the tale of a girl who runs away from home to join a cadre of glider pilots on a world without metal or fossil fuels.

On Twitter, he is @timothygwyn, and his blogs are at <>.

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SF News

Upcoming Cons

Supanova Adelaide 02/11/2018 till 04/11/2018, Adelaide Showground, John Barrowman & a calvacade of others. <>

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INDIE COMIC CON 2018 8 Dec Northcote Town Hall, Melbourne Free event. <>.

Nullus Anxietas VII: The Australian Discworld Convention — will be held in Melbourne on April 12-14, 2019, and is themed on Going Postal. More information: <>.

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